Global Warming Blamed For Rise In The Number Of Deadly Plague Infections

Written by Peter Randt on June 30, 2020

What is making plague fungus flourish in the Western world? Researchers believe that climate change is the culprit. This deadly type of fungus that causes bubonic plague now appears to have become stronger.

Global warming is causing plague fungi to flourish across the world, new research suggests.

In October 1437, the first plague outbreak in history, estimated to have been as great as 2 million cases, hit North America.

By the time of the Great Plague in 1485, the disease had left its mark on the inhabitants of every continent.

People still get plague, but nowadays, the threat is much less of a threat — thanks to the use of antibiotics.

Last October, a Dutch man died of plague. However, there is still a fear of such an outbreak, given that after the outbreak in Ireland, the global incidence of the disease decreased.

However, now, scientists believe that global warming may be contributing to the situation; humans are exposing the world to a greater frequency of lethal bubonic plague pathogens.

Ceasefires caused by global warming

Researches from Utrecht University in the Netherlands, led by Prof. Adie Van Vonderen, analyzed the kinds of organisms that are currently inhabiting the landscape in Canada, to see how they have changed over time.

They took high-resolution maps of soil and geology dating back to the early 1900s, then compared the maps with their current state, making sure that the data matched.

One of the major findings the team came across was that, over time, different regions in Canada have faced different kinds of environmental conditions. At first, researchers noted that, based on the maps they were using, it seemed that the freezing temperatures that were prevalent in the Canadian Rockies between the years 1890 and 1975 were a major cause of the rise in plague.

"Since the soil was frozen, there was no germination. This made it more difficult for the first plague outbreaks to occur. So, we were surprised to see that most of the larger outbreaks occurred after the country had been freed from the Arctic chill, with the major cluster in the 1930s and 1940s." Prof. Adie Van Vonderen

A new cause of plague

Now, however, Prof. Van Vonderen and her team believe that they may have identified a much more common cause of plague in today's world.

Specifically, these scientists revealed that plague fungus is blooming in many areas across North America. This means that there has been a significant increase in both the amount of the fungus and its nature.

Specifically, the researchers came to the conclusion that this fungus, as it has transformed through time, has taken an entirely different species of lifeform, adapting its traits through global warming.

"The evolution of the plague fungus we found was clearly the result of changes in climate," says Prof. Van Vonderen.

Global warming, the researchers believe, is the biggest threat to humanity, both this century and in the near future. The present temperature change may be the reason why both the prevalence of plague and its progression have risen in recent years.

They add that the most dangerous type of the fungus, Peritonitis pyramidalis (Perbolovirus cominophores), may grow even faster in the warmer regions, and that "crisis plans should be taken to curb the deadly pathogens."

The team's findings, which they describe in the American Journal of Infection and Immunity, need to be formally validated and assessed before these results can be put to use. However, Prof. Van Vonderen claims that she and her team could already see the threat emerging, based on their research results.

"We did not see too many new plague communities in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. But since then, we have seen outbreaks of plague all across Canada and that shows the threat is growing. We now have to try to understand the pathogen ecology of plague, and what's caused it to thrive in North America." Prof. Adie Van Vonderen

Dr. Charlotte Valery, a postdoctoral fellow who worked on the project, also commented on the importance of the findings in the current climate change era.

"The conclusion of this study is that plague, like many infectious diseases, is likely to increase in relation to climate change because of the major changes that occur at the very local scales that plague species are adapted to. Therefore, there is a need to understand the environmental and climatic conditions that plague depends on," Dr. Valery explains.

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Written by Peter Randt on June 30, 2020

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