As is being reported by the Washington Post, a new study has found that damage to the environment can lead to increased spread of diseases to humans since the degradation can actually benefit “lower-level members of the food chain, who serve as the [disease-carrying] bacteria’s primary hosts,” adding to the already-long list of negative effects associated with the decline of environmental health. However, the Washington Post article does mention that in order for the positive correlation between environmental damage and disease spread to arise, the amount of damage must be at a certain level: if degradation became too extensive, then this relationship wouldn’t hold as all the organisms of the environment would become negatively affected, including the disease carriers. This new study focused solely on a specific type of skin disease called the Buruli ulcer, finding that certain amounts of environmental harm reduced the populations of higher-level food chain members, which then allowed the carriers of these specific bacteria, called Mycobacterium ulcerans, to prosper.
However, there are also other investigations that find the same kind of relationship between environmental damage and human diseases. For instance, a different study suggests that deforestation in Malaysia causes human and forest-dwelling macaque communities to come closer together, which in turn results in an increased likelihood of malaria being transmitted to humans from these monkeys via mosquitoes. There is also another study that states that dam construction in sub-Saharan Africa increases the risk of malaria transmissions to humans. Even the Zika virus has become such a major health hazard in part due to human-caused environmental changes such as deforestation, climate change, and dam construction.
While these may all seem like very negative conclusions, I see some positives we can take away from them. For example, the media could use these findings to alarm the public and call for more urgent action. Also, these results give scientists a more detailed look at how the environment really works, which can surely be beneficial. But, as always, rather than becoming paralyzed by what these issues could mean for our future, it’s imperative for humanity to look for new and creative solutions, as we always have.