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Fevered Planet: How a shifting climate is catalysing infectious disease

As temperatures shift, animals move to different regions and pathogens have more opportunities to jump between hosts. Could the next pandemic be fuelled by an unstable climate?

Now we are in a period of accelerating climate activity, we should expect more emerging diseases. Image credit: Getty Images

When temperatures rise, everything changes and disease arrives. As the thick ice melts and the seas and the air warm, so new life arrives in Arctic waters. Minke, bottlenose, fin and sperm whales are heading north, even as grizzly bears, white-tailed deer, coyotes and other animals and birds expand their range into boreal forests to the south.

But the geography of disease is also changing as novel pathogens affecting plants, animals and humans increase their range. New beetles are heading north and devastating Siberian forests, Alaskan mammals are struggling as new ticks arrive and human habitations in northern Norway are infested by new insects.

In Alaska, where winter warming has increased by nearly 4C in 60 years, the whole ecosystem is undergoing change. The sea ice is breaking up earlier than it used to, causing changes in the amount of phytoplankton – the minute organisms that drift around in water currents – at the bottom of the food chain. [continue]