We've updated our Privacy Policy to make it clearer how we use your personal data. We use cookies to provide you with a better experience. You can read our Cookie Policy here.


Climate Change Is Effecting the Occurrence of Infectious Diseases

A sign held up saying "climate justice now!"
Credit: Markus Spiske / Unsplash.
Listen with
Register for free to listen to this article
Thank you. Listen to this article using the player above.

Want to listen to this article for FREE?

Complete the form below to unlock access to ALL audio articles.

Read time: 2 minutes


A Europe-wide study on birds and bats found that pathogen prevalence in these animals is linked to temperature and rainfall. Climate change may alter the distribution of infectious diseases in wildlife.

Key takeaways

    • A Europe-wide study on birds and bats revealed that the prevalence of pathogenic microbes is linked to temperature and rainfall, with pathogenic bacteria favoring warm and dry climates while viruses thrive in moist conditions.
    • Climate change affects the distribution of pathogens and their hosts, as observed with bird ranges shifting northwards. This could lead to an increase in thermophilic pathogens in northern Europe.
      • Rainfall influences the occurrence of certain pathogens, such as mosquito-borne viruses, like Usutu and Sindbis, and bacteria like salmonella, emphasizing the complex relationship between climate and infectious diseases in wildlife.

      Climatic factors and pathogens

      A new Europe-wide study investigated the prevalence of protozoans, bacteria and viruses potentially pathogenic to humans and domestic animals in birds and bats in varying climatic conditions. The prevalence of many of these pathogens was associated with temperature or rainfall.

      The new study compiled information on the occurrence of over 75 pathogenic microbes across Europe from almost 400 bird- and 40 bat species. Combining data on occurrence with climatic factors revealed that the occurrence of most pathogens was associated with temperature or rainfall.

      Want more breaking news?

      Subscribe to Technology Networks’ daily newsletter, delivering breaking science news straight to your inbox every day.

      Subscribe for FREE

      "In general, the occurrence of pathogenic bacteria increased in areas with a warm and dry climate. On the other hand, pathogenic viruses prefer moist climate", according to lead author Yanjie Xu from the Finnish Museum of Natural History, University of Helsinki.

      The association between climatic factors and pathogens could be investigated on the 17 pathogen taxa with most data. The observed associations varied.

      "Temperature was positively associated with occurrence of avian flu virus, malaria -parasite, and bacteria that cause chlamydia, salmonella, Q-fever and typhus in birds and bats", explains university lecturer Arto Pulliainen from the University of Turku Institute of Biomedicine.

      Rainfall had both positive and negative associations with the occurrence of pathogens. For instance, increasing rainfall increased the probability for the occurrence of Usutu-, Sindbis- and avia flu viruses, as well as that of the occurrence of salmonella bacteria.

      "Usutu- and Sindbis- viruses are vectored by mosquitoes, and rainfall can increase the occurrence of wetlands favoured by mosquitoes. Similarly, avian flu and salmonella are prevalent particularly in waterfowl, for whom wetlands are also of importance", says academy research fellow Thomas Lilley from the Finnish Museum of Natural History.

      The study, compiling results of over 700 research papers and almost half a million observations, bolsters the notion that climate change can alter the risk of succumbing to infectious diseases. Climate change modifies the distribution ranges of both the pathogens and their hosts, the wild animals. The distribution ranges of birds have already been observed to shift northwards by over a kilometer per year. Climate change also influences the occurrence of pathogens in the environments, for instance in water bodies.

      "There is a possibility that for instance thermophilic pathogens become more common in northern Europe as a cause of climate change", ponders senior curator Aleksi Lehikoinen from the Finnish Museum of Natural History.

      Reference: Xu Y, Poosakkannu A, Suominen KM, et al. Continental‐scale climatic gradients of pathogenic microbial taxa in birds and bats. Ecography. 2023:e06783. doi: 10.1111/ecog.06783

      This article has been republished from the following materials. Article summaries may have been generated by fact-checked AI models. Note: material may have been edited for length and content. For further information, please contact the cited source.