Friday, March 5, 2010

Climate change a factor in malaria spread

Climate change is one reason that malaria is on the rise in some parts of the world, according to new research by Emory environmental studies' Luis Chaves, but other factors such as migration and land-use changes are likely also at play. The Quarterly Review of Biology recently published the findings by Chaves and an associate at Wageningen University in the Netherlands. Their review of 70 studies aimed to sort out contradictions that have emerged as scientists try to understand why malaria has been spreading into highland areas of East Africa, Indonesia, Afghanistan and elsewhere in recent decades.

Malaria, a parasitic disease spread to humans by mosquitoes, is common in warm climates of Africa, South America and South Asia. The development and survival, both of the mosquito and the malaria parasite, are highly sensitive to daily and seasonal temperature patterns and the disease has traditionally been rare in the cooler highland areas.

After careful examination of the statistical models of previous studies, the researchers concluded that climate change is indeed likely playing a role in highland malaria. "Even if trends in temperature are very small, organisms can amplify such small changes and that could cause an increase in parasite transmission," Chaves said.

Additional research should combine climate change data with other possible factors in the spread of malaria, Chaves added.

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