Global warming makes viruses more resistant to treatment, study finds

A new study conducted by Swiss scientists has found that global warming may threaten the human population by facilitating diseases caused by viruses that are harder to kill. The study suggests that waterborne viruses that are forced to adapt to warmer climates due to climate change are infectious for longer p[eriods of time. They also become more resistant to disinfectants like chlorine.

“This implies that microbial water quality may be worse in warm regions, and the health risks posed by viruses will be greater,” Tamar Kohn, associate professor of environmental chemistry at Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, told The Independent.

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High temperatures and sunlight are known for reducing the potential of viruses that are waterborne. However, the study found that these expectations change if a virus is adapted to the warmer temperatures already.

The researchers examined a family of viruses named enteroviruses. Enteroviruses cause a wide range of infections such as cold, polio, and more. This family of virus usually spreads through wastewater, sewages, and feces.

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The researchers examined four sets of enteroviruses by incubating samples in flasks of lake water at 10C and 30C, with and without exposure to sunlight. The samples were then exposed to high temperatures and disinfectant.

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The results showed that the virus groups that were forced to adapt to the warmer temperatures were more resistant to being killed by the head and disinfectant, compared to the samples in the cooler temperatures. The warmer temperature adapted virus samples also retained their resistance when present in cooler temperatures.

These shocking results show that climate change may create an irreversible set of resistant viruses. Professor Kohn said that viruses adapted to warmer temperatures “will persist in an infectious state for a longer time, and also be more resistant to disinfection.” However, she mentions that these are only laboratory tests, and field testing is yet to be conducted to validate the results.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the world that our approach of protection against viral outbreaks is not sufficient to protect the population. There is still a lot more work to be done in order to prepare ourselves against future outbreaks and pandemics. This may be more important than ever, as global warming increases the resistance of viruses, making outbreaks harder to control.

The study was published in the American Chemical Society’s Environmental Science and Technology.

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