Climate change has a major impact on the spread of zoonoses

By Karim Belbachir and Bernd Fuchs

More and more frequently, viruses manage to jump from animals to humans. In particularly serious cases, there are then pandemics, as is currently the case with Corona, for example. Due to the fact that the habitat of animal species will continue to be restricted with climate change, further zoonoses will be in circulation in the future.

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Confined habitats increase the chance of transmission

In the future, even more viruses will spread from animals to humans.

© IMAGO/Bihlmayerfotografie,

Does climate change favor the transmission of viruses to humans? The scientist Colin Carlson from Georgetown University investigated this question together with his colleagues. We won’t like the answer. More and more of these so-called zoonoses are already being transmitted to humans. One of the main reasons is the overlap of the animals’ habitat. These are being pushed back more and more, for example through agricultural use. They now not only share their habitat with more and more other species, but often with humans as well.

So it is not surprising that more and more zoonoses make the transition to humans. By 2070, the researchers calculated that first contacts with other wild animal species would double. This in turn also increases the risk that they will end up in humans.

At least 4,500 species jumps predicted

San Isidro West slope, Ecuador, Andean |  San Isidro West slope, Ecuador, Andes |  Experiencing warm weather

The habitats of animals and humans are increasingly overlapping, especially in tropical regions. This increases the risk of virus transmission.

© picture alliance / blickwinkel/A, AGAMI/M. Guyt

The Carlson team expects these species jumps to increase, particularly in the tropical regions of Africa and Southeast Asia. That would be due to the different climate zones and the many species of mammals in a confined space. The scientists predict that up to 15,000 species jumps are possible and 4,500 are considered certain. Even global warming below 2 degrees cannot stop this spread.

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“Our results underscore the urgent need to detect and monitor viruses”, explains Carlson. In addition, the shifts in the distribution areas of species must be tracked, especially in tropical regions where most zoonoses are found and where warming is faster.

The most well-known zoonoses: corona viruses

A larva roller in the enclosure: the civet cat is considered a carrier of SARS

The larval roller is considered the carrier of the SARS virus.

© german press agency

The most famous zoonosis is probably this Covid-19-Virus, which the corona pandemic has given us. Scientists had suspected that the virus was transmitted by bats. However, this is not yet 100 percent guaranteed. Other corona viruses also include MERS and SARS. Bats are also considered to be the original carriers there, while dromedaries and the civet cat species larval rollers served as intermediate hosts.

Affenpocken (Monkeypox Virus)

  24 May 2022: Warning sign with inscription monkey pox, monkey pox PHOTOMONTAGE *** Warning sign with inscription monkey pox, monkey pox PHOTOMONTAGE

Warning sign with the inscription monkeypox: The monkeypox virus is currently causing a sensation worldwide.

© IMAGO/Bihlmayerfotografie, IMAGO/Warning sign with inscription mo,

They’re doing it right now Affenpocken (Monkeypox Virus) the round. In fact, smallpox had been considered extinct since 1979. A consistent vaccination campaign contributed significantly to this. However, since the virus has not appeared in Germany since 1972, compulsory vaccination was lifted in West Germany in 1976 and in East Germany in 1982. People who have been vaccinated against smallpox have some protection (up to 85 percent) from the disease. Rodents are considered to be the intermediate hosts and carriers of monkeypox. One of the reasons for the spread of the latest cases could also be the removal of more forest areas. The virus is transmitted through the exchange of bodily fluids.

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Real flu – influenza

ARCHIVE - January 24, 2014, Berlin: A little boy holds a handkerchief to his nose.  (Illustration to "RKI: Children are currently diagnosed with flu more often than corona") Photo: Nicolas Armer/dpa +++ dpa picture radio +++

The real flu has similar symptoms to a common cold, but the triggering viruses are different.

© dpa, Nicolas Armer, nar dak sab tmk htf

Another zoonosis that has gained some notoriety is that Real flu (influenza). It is an infectious disease transmitted by various animals. The swine flu (H1N1), for example, claimed around 200,000 people in 2009/2010. The parent virus is the H5N1 avian flu.



Bats are considered to be carriers of the Ebola virus.

© dpa, Cdc Handout

Ebola With a mortality rate of around 90 percent, it is one of the most deadly zoonoses. Bats are also considered to be the carriers of Ebola. Although the first illness was reported in 1976, the largest outbreak of fever occurred in 2014-2016. Similar to monkeypox, Ebola viruses are transmitted through bodily fluids, but eating contaminated meat and coming into contact with contaminated objects are also transmitted.


  Illustration of a mosquito sucking blood Illustration of a mosquito sucking blood. PUBLICATIONxINxGERxSUIxHUNxONLY SCIEPRO/SCIENCExPHOTOxLIBRARY F023/6684

Travelers in tropical countries in particular like to catch dengue fever. Carriers are mosquitoes.

© imago images/Science Photo Library, Science Photo Library, via,

It’s another viral disease Denguefieber, which travelers usually catch in tropical countries and then bring with them to Europe. The virus is transmitted by mosquitoes, but originally comes from monkeys. The first cases of the fever were recorded by the Chinese a few centuries after Christ’s birth.

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