Climate change linked to worrying trend in animal diseases

May 26, 2009

More than half the countries taking part in a World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) survey have linked climate change with an emerging or re-emerging animal disease.

The international body says the impact of climate change on the emergence and re-emergence of animal diseases has been confirmed by a majority of its member-countries and territories in a worldwide study conducted by the body.

"More and more countries are indicating that climate change has been responsible for at least one emerging or re-emerging disease occurring on their territory," said Dr Bernard Vallat, director general of the OIE.

"This is a reality we cannot ignore and we must help veterinary services throughout the world to equip themselves with systems that comply with international standards of good governance so as to deal with this problem," he said.

Delegates of the 174 member-countries and territories issued a warning over the threat to the international community at the 77th OIE General Assembly.

Delegates heard the conclusions of a study entitled "Impact of climate change and environmental changes on emerging and re-emerging animal disease and animal production", presented by Australian expert Dr Peter Black.

Black called for a new approach to prevent these new dangers.

In total, 126 countries and territories took part in the study.

Of these, 71 per cent said they were extremely concerned at the expected impact of climate change on emerging and re-emerging diseases. Fifty-eight per cent identified at least one emerging or re-emerging disease on their territory that was believed to be associated with climate change.

The three animal diseases most frequently mentioned by the members that responded were: bluetongue, Rift Valley fever and West Nile fever. Bluetongue is closely related to deadly African Horse Sickness, which is considered a disease threat in Europe.

The majority of countries also considered that human influence on the environment has an impact on climate change and therefore on the emergence or re-emergence of animal diseases.

OIE members have given the body a mandate to address the issue by using its scientific capabilities and networks, especially at global, regional and sub-regional levels.

They advocated more research, national capacity-building for public and private sector animal health systems, and communication, with the aim of preventing or reducing the effects of climate change on animal production and diseases, including those transmissible to humans.