Why climate change is making parasitic diseases harder to predict

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Mark Booth, Newcastle University

It’s a sunny day. Look out of your window. See anything unusual flying by? Look closely. There are midges, and they are not friendly.

Some of them are carrying a virus of sheep and other animals called bluetongue. You are not personally at risk of bluetongue, but farming systems are vulnerable.

Bluetongue is a problem in many countries and, as the climate changes, is expected to spread further, particularly in central Africa, the US and western Russia. The first cases in the UK were detected in 2023.

Bluetongue is one of many infectious diseases likely to be affected by climate change. As part of the World Health Organization’s task team on climate change, malaria and neglected tropical diseases, I recently contributed to a review of climate change, malaria and over 20 neglected tropical diseases.

We found that most mathematical models pointed to global changes in the transmission of some mosquito-borne diseases like malaria and dengue. For most other parasites, there was little or no evidence. We simply don’t know what to expect. A major issue is that climate change is creating great uncertainty in the forecasting and prediction of where and when infections might occur.

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