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Why China’s top Covid expert is studying climate change to prepare for the next global pandemic

In 2020, Zhang was appointed head of the Shanghai Covid-19 clinical expert team, become a household name and central figure in the country’s fight against the virus.

He has published hundreds of articles in the field of public health and infectious diseases. But he is now embarking on a new initiative to tackle the intersection of two growing threats: climate change and infectious diseases.

While the world is often most concerned about the observable impacts of climate change, such as extreme and catastrophic consequences weather eventsZhang said a growing body of research is now examining the indirect impact of global warming on the mutation and spread of pathogens.

Research examining this relationship “will become a growing priority globally,” he said.

As the planet’s climate changes, particularly with the expansion of the tropics, the way pathogens evolve and mutate also changes.

A study published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres in 2020 found that ocean surface warming in the subtropics was widening the width of the tropics.

“The reservoir of bacteria and viruses is expanding as the Earth warms,” Zhang said, adding that this would expose more animals to bacterial, viral and fungal infections, as well as pathogens and their vectors. like ticks and viruses. mosquitoes obtain more habitable land.

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In the United States, the incidence rate of encephalitis and Lyme disease, both transmitted by ticks, is increasing. Meanwhile in China, transmitted by mosquitoes dengue fever It is increasingly found in areas where it has not previously thrived.

“It expanded from the south – the more tropical areas – to the north, and now it has also started to extend to the Yangtze River basin. So now we can also detect dengue in the Yangtze River basin,” Zhang said.

In the countries of Southeast Asia and Africa, “not only malaria has not been eliminated, but the number of cases is at very high levels,” and it’s all linked to climate change, Zhang said.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has said that in the coming decades, climate change will affect the spread of vector-borne diseases like malaria due to changes in global temperatures and precipitation.

There is a hypothesis that the Covid-19 pandemic spread to humans from bats, whose habitats are also expanding.

“So the work we’re doing now is really about the next pandemic. »

But countries will need more data if they are to work together to create global disease management agreements and strategies to quickly respond to another global pathogen.

“(Scientists) mainly need to provide sufficient data, sufficient evidence and make corresponding suggestions” on how to build a global economy. pandemic preparednessa goal Zhang and others are now working toward.
The Covid-19 pandemic has devastated the world, killing more than 7 million people. Photo: Chinatopix via AP

As director of the Shanghai Sci-Tech Inno Centre, Zhang signed a memorandum of understanding with the University of Hong Kong (HKU) to work towards this goal during the annual Pujiang Innovation Forum in Hong Kong. Kong at the end of April.

Under the project, experts in climate change, public health, infectious disease control and public policy will be brought together to conduct research at HKU’s Center on Contemporary China and the World (CCCW).

Resident and non-resident experts will “pursue original research, establish regular monitoring systems, and provide platforms for public policy debate,” according to the CCCW.

“Through this platform, infectious disease experts and microbiologists can work with environmental experts and climate experts to conduct in-depth research on climate change and infectious diseases together,” Zhang said.

With more data and systematic disease surveillance, he said, scientists could uncover “alarms” for upcoming pandemics this could serve as an early warning and trigger rapid response actions.

While Zhang and other mainland experts will begin their work alongside Hong Kong experts, preparing for the next pandemic will need to be a collective effort for researchers around the world.

It will require science “from different angles and at different levels” to provide as much evidence as possible that policy experts and governments can use when developing disease management strategies.

Climate change and infectious diseases are complex questions that require input from different fields. But through their work, researchers like Zhang are trying to “simplify a complex issue.”

As part of the work with CCCW, an information sharing platform will be created “so that we scientists have systems that we can use to communicate,” Zhang said.

Infectious disease expert Zhang Wenhong studies the indirect effects of climate change on pathogens as he prepares for the next global pandemic. Photo: Weibo
He also noted that in the second half of this year, a discussion bringing together experts from several countries will be held to discuss how the world can prepare for future pandemics.

The work scientists do today will be guided by research conducted over the past few years since the coronavirus pandemic.

Beyond preparing to manage the spread of future pathogens, scientists are also concerned about how climate change will affect treatments for infected patients.

Antimicrobial resistance – when bacteria, parasites, viruses and fungi develop resistance to drugs designed to kill them – is another growing challenge.

Infectious pathogens can change and mutate over time, causing them to no longer respond to the medications used to treat them. According to the WHO, this can cause infections to persist in patients and increase the risk of spread to others.

Zhang said that in 2019, 1.27 million people died directly due to antibiotic resistance worldwide.

“One issue that scientists around the world agree on is that by 2050, 10 million people will die every year because of drug resistance,” Zhang said. This is equivalent to the number of people who die from cancer each year.

Bacterial resistance It’s a problem, and it has a lot to do with changes in the environment, climate change, human and animal activities,” he said.

In the past, research into drug resistance was divided between clinicians studying how to treat it and pharmacologists trying to make new antibiotics.

“But we have now found that the emergence of drug resistance is faster than the emergence of antibiotics,” Zhang said.

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Although research into possible links between climate change and drug resistance is “currently lacking,” expanding the area should be an important part of pandemic preparedness, he said.

One of the proposed strategies is One Health, an initiative that the WHO describes as an integrated global approach mobilizing different sectors of society to work together on issues such as managing global health threats.

This includes researchers, doctors, government officials, global organizations and global communities.

Although the world officially emerged from Covid-19 lockdown last year, Zhang said how the virus mutates and evolves “remains a big concern.”

New variations of COVID-19(female continued to emerge and spread across the world. The newest is the KP.2, part of a group called “FLiRT” variants. In early May, it became the dominant variant in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“We don’t know what the next step will be variant this will be the case, so we need to conduct a longer-term investigation into this,” Zhang said, adding that then scientists will be able to get a clearer picture of how Covid-19 is evolving, as they did it for the flu.

“We will also observe how the coronavirus spreads from the natural reservoir to human society,” he said. This is due to the expansion of habitable zones for its vectors.

“This will have important implications for the future.”

News Source : amp.scmp.com
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