Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Global Warming Breeds Super Bugs

Dr Abe V Rotor
Living with Nature - School on Blog (avrotor.blogspot.com)
In one article in this blog, “Industrialization is Driving Our Climate Wild,” I discussed how global warming affects agriculture. In this one I will present how the present phenomenon affects our health and welfare, and why we should gear up against the possible epidemic spread of pests and pathogenic diseases.

Aedes egypti transmits dengue or hemorrhagic fever, a disease that can spread into epidemic in many parts of the world, including the Philippines. (Wikipedia) 
Leptospirosis, also called infectious jaundice, became known as a disease recently when Manila virtually remained underwater for days as a result of monsoon rains intensified by a series of typhoons. The disease’s symptom is yellow coloration of the skin. The causal organism is a spiral bacterium, hence the name, and is endemic where public sanitation and personal hygiene are neglected. One can contact the disease through infected rodent and other animal urine. According to reports, most of the victims acquire the disease from polluted drinking water or wading in flood streets. The suspected carrier is the Rattus rattus norvigicus or city rat, counterpart of the field rat, Rattus rattus mindanensis.

How do we know if a person has contacted the disease? At first, the symptoms are like those of an ordinary flu, which may last for a few days as the pathogen incubates in the body. If not treated immediately, the infection may lead to hemorrhages of the skin or mucus linings and eye inflammation. Extreme cases may lead to irreversible damage to the liver and kidney.

As floodwaters drive the rats out of their subterranean abode (such as canals, culverts, and sewers), they take refuge in homes, market stalls, restaurants, even high rise buildings and malls, bringing the infectious bacterium directly to its victims. The migratory nature of rats also explains how leptospirosis can reach people living far from the flooded areas.

Bubonic Plague or Black Death
This brings to mind the dreaded scourge of mankind in the Middle Ages, bubonic plague. Rats are the carriers of this bacterium-caused disease also called the Black Death. It was so deadly that it claimed the lives of at least 100 million people with 25 million in Europe alone. It stopped man’s progress that the period was appropriately described Second Dark Ages. It spread around crowded cities and towns, with the pestilence peaking with climatic upheavals, such as what we know today as the El Nino phenomenon. Historical accounts are usually laced with superstitious beliefs. With the arrival of Renaissance (Rebirth of Learning) in the 15th century the whole incident was shelved and filed away in archives. But scientists today are piecing up together evidences which may indicate that climate had something to do with long-term cycle of the disease.

The bubonic plague appeared in the United States at the start of the 1900 and then in India in the late 1970’s, but thanks to modern medicine the disease was effectively controlled even before it reached epidemic stages. Between 1941 and 1945, the Japanese used the plague bacteria in war, by rearing the germs clinically and using flea (Xenopsylla cheopis) as carrier. The idea is to sow pestilence, thereby defeating the enemy both in the battlefield and at home. After successfully testing the bubonic plague bombs on China, Japan aimed the new biological weapon against its number one enemy, the U.S. The attempt failed when the American forces dropped two atomic bombs in 1945 obliterating Hiroshima and Nagasaki, resulting in the end of World War II hostilities.

Adverse Weather and Common Ailments
Common ailments are usually tied to adverse weather conditions. Following are same examples:

1. The outbreak of boils for one is more likely to occur under hot, steamy weather. The same is true with many bacterial and fungal skin diseases.

2. Influenza outbreaks coincide with extreme changes in weather conditions, normally, towards the rainy season and start of the Siberian High (cold months).

3. Typhoid cases are higher during the rainy season, particularly when there is a flood. It is the floodwater, mixed with sewage and other organic waste that carries the pathogenic bacterium, Escherichia coli.

4. Dengue Fever mosquito larvae, Aedes egypti may aestivate in the dry season. But once rains come it starts breeding in empty bottles, old tires, basins and clogged gutters. Rain and flood enhance the population and spread of mosquitoes, which spread not only dengue but malaria, too.

Global Warming Disturbs Our Climate
Here is a background on global warming and its impact on our atmosphere (air), lithosphere (land) and hydrosphere (water).

1. During the 20th century, the average atmospheric temperature went up by at least one degree Fahrenheit. Small as it seems, this rise in temperature is sufficient to activate tornadoes, hurricanes, rains and floods. It also helps widen temperature range to extreme levels, creating abnormalities in weather conditions. Scientists explain why the El Nino phenomenon (which comes every five or ten years) is becoming more and more erratic, causing much destruction, especially when it is too wet on one side of the globe, and too dry on the other.

2. The reason why our atmosphere is getting warmer is because of the so-called greenhouse effect, which means that more of the heat of the sun is absorbed and stays longer, causing increasing levels of heat-absorbing gases like carbon dioxide. Our cars and factories are the principal sources of these gases.

3. Rising temperatures cause pronounced atmospheric heating. Hotter air and water along with higher relative humidity altogether stimulate evaporation, cloud formation and eventual precipitation. When there is extreme cold and hot air, a wind system develops, growing into cyclones, hurricanes and tornadoes.

4. Hotter climates cause ice thinning on mountaintops, breaking down of icebergs and floes, melting of the polar ice. The law of displacement explains why our seas are rising, and because all oceans and seas are interconnected, the effect becomes a global one. The first to suffer are those living on low-lying areas. Unfortunately, most cities and town are found on lowlands, near seaports and along major rivers. Thus the next exodus will be ecologically caused. We can call it mass eco-migration. A very disruptive kind of resettlement is needed, dwarfing the kinds of settlement during the era of colonization and conquest. Today’s planners are revolutionizing the concept and design of human habitation that would be decongested and environmentally conserving.

5. There will be a major shift in farming systems where new frontiers will be opened, while others will be abandoned. Adaptation strategies of crops and animals, review of land use policies and programs are back on the drawing boards. Again, environmental conservation will receive special attention.

6. Wildlife migration patterns, niches and distribution, will be greatly affected as their natural habitats are destroyed or modified by changing climate. All living things, without exception, are affected by the man-induced phenomenon of global warming.

The Making of Superbugs
Global warming affects even the lowly and microscopic organisms. They are called gamu-gamu or simut-simut. These are the winged termites. These ordinarily shy, tunnel-dwelling insect suddenly take into the air at night in a swarm, attracted by light in our homes and towns. There is a new breed of super termite that has destroyed thousands of homes in Southern United States since the 1950’s after it was accidentally introduced from China. The insect continued to develop resistance to eradication despite U.S. advances in biology and chemistry.

We trace this superb resistance on two views. First, this super termite is the survivor of chemical spraying. Pesticides may have eradicated the weaker members of its population, but the survivors carry the acquired resistance. After several generations, and the super termite was formed. This genetic advantage may explain the species’ survival, but what about its successful geographic adaptation and distribution? This brings us to my second observation.

Frequent rains and floods predispose wood to soften or even rot, making it more palatable to the cellulose-eating insect. It prefers old wood and the southern states have houses as old as the Mayflower expedition. These conditions provide a perfect termite abode, and together with its symbionts, protozoa in its stomach and wood fungus as pre-digester, termite empires continue to spread from one house after another.

Then at swarming time (which now occurs more frequently than once a year), it is easy for a new termite swarm to start new colonies, which today can be as convenient in book shelves, wooden appliances, apparadors, and office files, as well as posts, beams, floors and walls. And by the way, according to Discovery TV channel, termites strangely eat twice as fast, given an ambiance of loud metallic music (or noise). Watch out for the floor!

The Case of the Fire Ant
We encounter red ants, Solenopsis geminata, in the kitchen, picnic grounds, and garden. According to old folks, when they emerge from their nest to seek shelter on higher grounds, carrying their young and food, they proclaim the arrival of heavy rain.

But it is not this kind of ant of which we are more concerned now. In Florida, a super red ant has spread all over the state and is still moving via floodwaters. A mass of ants, by the thousands, would simply float on water currents landing on a new territory, and then break into several colonies. That is how efficiently the ant is spread, a new adaptation that other ants do not possess.

The sting of this super ant contains a poisonous formic acid. A person who is allergic to it could die from just a single sting. While this ant may be beneficial in one way by devouring destructive insects on the farm, the very sign of its presence in such magnitude is alarming. The US Department of Agriculture even uses GP (Global Positioning) Satellite to monitor and identify the foragers’ locations and sizes of their colonies to assist in their eradication.

The Case of the Super Bacteria
In 1993, tens of thousands of people in Milwaukee suddenly got sick and the suspected culprit is a bacterium that lives in the cloudy waters of Lake Michigan which supplies the areas’ potable water. But Lake Michigan has long been polluted. From the view deck on Sears Tower, one can smell the foul odor of the lake. What is surprising is that the pathogen has found a way to defy ordinary water treatment methods.

Such is how the Milwaukee pathogen has proliferated. During the El Nino of 1993, melting snow joined the floodwaters, washing down animal manure and other organic wastes from upland farms and homes, and dumping them into the lake. This has the effect of fertilizing the bacterium. Ecologists call this sudden bacterial upsurge “bloom”, which is similar to the algal bloom phenomenon.

To control the epidemic, drinking water had to be boiled, and water treatment methods intensified until the bacterium is eliminated. These procedures are necessarily very costly operations.

Deadly Dinoflagellates
On the estuaries of Maryland and North Carolina a strange disease has been harming humans and was only first observed 1993. For a time it baffled doctors and scientists until it was traced to Plasteria, a dinoflagellate - a microscopic unicellular organism that behaves like both a plant and an animal. It carries chlorophyll to enable it to manufacture food by photosynthesis, and being equipped with flagella and amoeboid form, it could live freely on the estuaries in huge numbers or as a parasite of fish and other organisms.

It attacks fish by ambushing it with neurotoxin. Once inside the fish body the amoeba-like creature enters the blood stream, and secretes an acid that dissolves tissues and internal organs, killing the fish. This explains the massive fish kill that occurred in these estuaries in 1991.

In turn, the toxin as well as the immature form of the dinoflagellate, enter the human body through infected fish. Even if a person recovers, he suffers permanent loss of memory, and adversely affected speech and coordination, as discovered by scientists from the University of Maryland.

Where did the dinoflagellate come from and how did it spread into the estuaries? From nearby pig farms, with the slurry flowing downward to the estuaries. Fertilizers, farm chemicals, and organic wastes, follow the same process. Flooding and poor drainage controls exacerbate the situation, favoring the growth of the dinoflagellates.

The culprit in Red Tide is another algal bloom, but is located at coves and harbors. Organic materials and wastes flow down the river during floods and onto the sea where they fertilize the red tide dinoflagellates. In the Philippines the red tide species is Pyrodinium bahamense compressa. This happens when the water is warm and there is plenty of sunlight. The organisms multiply very rapidly that due to their enormous numbers, the water appears red, hence the term Red Tide.

The biblical story of the Nile turning red, as in one of the plagues of Egypt during the time of Moses, was a case of the Red Tide phenomenon. One would appreciate this better on entering Cairo coming from Sinai desert across the Suez Canal. From there one can see how near the Nile is to the Mediterranean Sea. During flood seasons the Nile deposits its load of silt and organic delta-building materials, consequently obstructing water flow. The area has become as a cradle of the Red Tide.

Hantavirus from Mice
In New Mexico that is a desert country, a strange kind of disease was discovered that affects the heart, kidney and liver. Dr. Ben Moneta, a descendant of Navajo Indians, and a graduate of Stanford University, came up with the answer. His findings may also re-open the puzzle of how the Navajo civilization suddenly perished.

Whenever the desert begins to get more rains, vegetation is increased, and so is the number of animals living in the area. The once barren area becomes suddenly fertile, causing the mice population to rapidly increase. Mice are carriers of a deadly hantavirus that adversely infect humans. Dr. Moneta found out that as early as in 1923 a medicine woman warned that if a mouse gets in contact with clothes or anything worn, these apparel should be immediately burned to prevent infection. This led him to believe that the hantavirus is not new. It must have existed for millions of years, but its resurgence is becoming clear.

Delphi Project
In the idle Los Alamos desert is a new center. Its Mission code name is Delphi Project. Here, scientists are studying killer bugs (organisms which can launch an attack and destroy many lives and properties). It is a race with time and as the clock ticks, man should be able to prevent any catastrophe reminiscent of the Bubonic Plague. AIDS (Acute Immuno-Deficiency Syndrome) is already prodding us to move fast.

The message is clear. Let us restrict careless activities that favor the making of super bugs.~

Author’s Note on SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome)

According to Time Magazine, a more likely, and frightening, possibility is the unstable SARS coronovirus which has mutated since it left its origin in Guangdong, China. Now it has become a more virulent and contagious virus as evidenced by samples taken in Beijing and Hongkong. The spread in China and other countries is expected to rise, causing untold numbers of deaths. While there is no specific connection between global warming and SARS, it is established that unstable and unfavorable climatic conditions expose millions of people to health problems.

Left:  Water contaminated with microscopic algae, such as Euglena, may render a whole reservoir unfit for human consumption. Right: Green algae may “bloom” under intense sunlight and nutrient-rich water, the cause of fish kill. 

Algal bloom of the poisonous Caulerpa taxifolia on the Mediterranean seafloor is thought to be a result of global warming. Jellyfish outbreak is spurred by global warming.

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