Science just gave us more proof that destroying the environment can spread diseases to humans

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In a new study, scientists have demonstrated — yet again — the alarming effects of environmental change on the spread of infectious disease. It’s the latest link in a long chain of research suggesting that deforestation and other land-use changes can be major drivers of everything from malaria to the Zika virus, which the World Health Organization recently noted is a public health threat that’s “here to stay.”

Many previous studies have focused on how changes to the environment can create landscapes that are more suitable for disease-carrying organisms, like mosquitoes, or bring them into closer contact with humans. For instance, research suggests that deforestation in Malaysia has brought human communities closer to forest-dwelling macaques — and now, people in these communities are starting to come down with a form of malaria usually found only in monkeys. And another study found that dams in South Africa, which can create standing water for mosquitoes to breed in, have caused a spike in malaria rates.

The new study, just out Wednesday in the journal Science Advances, takes a slightly different tack. It focuses on the way land-use changes can alter an ecosystem’s food chain — and the disease-causing bacteria that lurk within it. It finds that a certain amount of environmental degradation can actually be a boon for lower-level members of the food chain, who serve as the bacteria’s primary hosts.

The study focuses on a species of bacteria called Mycobacterium ulcerans, which is responsible for a skin disease known as the Buruli ulcer. While treatable with antibiotics and sometimes even surgery, according to the World Health Organization, the painful ulcers caused by the disease can also lead to scarring and disfigurement. It tends to be found in tropical and subtropical regions of Africa, South America and the Western Pacific. In 2014, 2,200 new cases were reported.

Read more here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2016/12/08/science-just-gave-us-more-proof-that-destroying-the-environment-can-spread-diseases-to-humans/?utm_source=rss_energy-environment&utm_term=.8f015fd932b3

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