Writing this month (July 2004) in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, an international team of experts warns that widespread changes in the global landscape are providing new opportunities for dozens of infectious diseases, including scourges like malaria, dengue fever, Lyme disease, yellow fever, cholera, influenza, foot and mouth, and hemorrhagic fevers.
"Evidence is mounting that deforestation and ecosystem changes have implications for the distribution of many other microorganisms, and the health of human, domestic animal and wildlife populations," according to the report compiled by the Working Group on Land Use Change and Disease Emergence, an international group of infectious disease and environmental health experts.
"Many of our current activities, primarily for economic development, have some major adverse health effects," says Jonathan A. Patz, the lead author of the report, and a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor in the Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment (SAGE) of the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies and the department of population health sciences.
Indeed, a detailed understanding of the influence of human activities on the spread of pathogens, the report notes, is limited to only a few diseases. In the northeastern United States, for example, studies have documented that forest fragmentation, urban sprawl and the erosion of biodiversity have contributed significantly to the spread of Lyme disease.
A more global example is the AIDS virus, which scientists think may have first infected "bush meat" hunters given access to Africa's tropical forests by th