Environmental Change and the Emergence of Infectious Diseases: A Regional Perspective from South America

Environmental Change and the Emergence of Infectious Diseases: A Regional Perspective from South America

Ulisses Confalonieri (René Rachou Research Center - Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, Brazil), Júlia Alves Menezes (René Rachou Research Center – Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, Brazil) and Carina Margonari (René Rachou Research Center - Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, Brazil)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0553-2.ch005
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Abstract

In South America in the past decades several infectious diseases have emerged or re-emerged either as part of larger pandemics or as local processes involving autochthonous pathogens. These included arthropod-borne viral diseases, such as Dengue Fever, Chikungunya and Zika as well as viral hemorrhagic fevers, such as Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome, Junin, Machupo and Guanarito viruses. Parasitic disease was also important such as Malaria, endemic in the northern part of the continent, Leishmaniasis and Chagas Disease. Carrion disease, a bacterial infection originally from the Andes region, also seems to be expanding geographically. Several social and environmental processes have contributed to the emergence of these pathogens, including human migration, deforestation, road and dam building and climate shifts. Due to its high biological diversity of wildlife, arthropods and virus species in still untouched natural ecosystems in the Amazon has the greatest regional potential for the emergence of new human infections.
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Background

The emergence of infectious diseases was identified as a major global health threat in the last quarter of the 20th century. Zoonotic pathogens from wild animals formed the majority of newly emerged human pathogens in the past few decades (Jones et al., 2008). Several factors have been pointed as major contributors to human infectious disease emergence: new strains of the pathogens, increased resistance to antibiotics, reduced resistance of hosts (e.g. infection by HIV), variations in human populations densities, shifts in diversity of populations of vectors and hosts, hunting of wild animals for food, deforestation and loss of biodiversity and climatic anomalies (Jones et al. 2008; Keesing et al, 2010; Pongsiri et al, 2009; Wilcox & Gubler 2005).

In general, it is acknowledged that, for disease emergence to take place, an association of different drivers is necessary. In South America, since the middle of the last century, several diseases have emerged caused by different etiological agents, from Protozoa to viral infections. Some of these were part of larger epidemics/pandemics (e.g. Cholera; Dengue Fever) but other diseases have emerged as autochthonous local processes and became endemic, such as viral haemorrhagic fevers caused by Junin and Guanarito Viruses. While some of those that have emerged or re-emerged became widely distributed (e.g. Dengue Fever), others occurred as local outbreaks with a small number of cases, restricted in time, and no more cases were reported (e.g. Sabiá Virus infections).

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