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Coronavirus and Climate Change

AP Photo/Andy Wong

Scientists say we can expect more viruses from the corona family, like the one currently afflicting thousands of people primarily in China.

And one of the reasons for that is climate change. 


Luis Escobar is a disease ecologist at Virginia Tech. He says, climate change and deforestation have an impact on the movement of viruses.



So, it's, specific conditions like, de- forestation or increase of urbanization or agriculture, that put people closer to wildlife and that makes us more at risk or more exposed to these viruses that are natural in wildlife.


Escobar says most viruses have been co- existing just fine with their animal hosts for centuries, even millennia.


So they have co-evolved to the point that they don't harm the natural host. They live with them. They need the host to be alive in order for them to perpetuate another generation of the virus. "  


But when these viruses move from animals to humans, they can cause serious harm to people quickly. And it’s not only climate, but it’s subset, the weather, that has an effect on how much a virus spreads.

 (A live map of coronavirus cases from Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering)

What we know for the flu for example, is that humidity in the air can allow the virus to survive longer in the air, once somebody sneezes, for example, as compared with drier air. So, the climatic conditions definitely facilitate the transmission  .


Escobar published a paper this week in the journal, EcoHealth that found that the response to this current Coronavirus has actually been faster than in previous outbreaks and that this time, China is sharing its data more freely. But the paper suggests China and the U.S. need to lead a world wide effort to be more proactive instead of reactive to these outbreaks.


Dr. Anthony Boffo-Bonnie is Medical Director for Infection Prevention and Control at Carillion Clinic in Roanoke. He says the risk to people in this country is, at this point, extremely low, but nonetheless, Carillion is preparing in case a local person comes down with, or even thinks he or she is coming down with, the virus.



“So, the suspect patient would have to have the symptoms and the appropriate risk of exposure, meaning travel or around somebody who has been diagnosed with that condition or being investigated for the condition. So that would be a fast way to screen and bring them up as suspect. “


He says, the next step, called a P-C-R Test, looks at genetic sequences. It’s being done only at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

“It's not 100% sensitive, but it's good enough. And that gives us an idea whether somebody is truly positive or not. Even though there is a small number of cases confirmed in the U.S. The possibility that someone could show no symptoms, could, nonetheless, transmit the virus.”





The Coronavirus that is cause for concern, is part of a family of viruses related to the common cold. But this virulent strain is so new it has not yet been formally named. Tradition is, these kinds of infectious diseases are named for the place they’re discovered, so it will ultimately be deemed ‘The Wuhan” virus for its origin in that Chinese province.  





Robbie Harris is based in Blacksburg, covering the New River Valley and southwestern Virginia.