Deforestation leading to spikes in infectious diseases

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The clearing of tropical forests to make way for development is creating environmental conditions that are boosting the spread of diseases such as malaria and dengue fever, according to a growing body of scientific evidence.

A February 23, 2016 article in E360 Digest, a publication of the Yale University School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, described how some of the world’s most serious infectious diseases emerge from wildlife and insects in forests—and how with fewer forests, such infections can more readily move into nearby human populations.

Cleared forests lead to ecological changes that increase the risk of disease outbreaks, particularly those carried by mosquitoes—and the mosquito populations that thrive in deforested areas tend to be more dangerous for humans. “The species that survive and become dominant, for reasons that are not well understood, almost always transmit malaria better than the species that had been most abundant in the intact forests,” according to the book “How Our Health Depends on Biodiversity,” co-authored by Aaron Bernstein, associate director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and quoted in the E360 Digest article. “This has been observed essentially everywhere malaria occurs.”

The article also quoted Harvard Chan entomologist Richard Pollack.