Fatal catalyst

Deforestation spurs malaria

Published: Wednesday 31 December 2003

The Anopheles darlingi environmental damage can at times beget human diseases. It has been discovered that the destruction of the Amazon rainforest is encouraging the growth of a malaria parasite. During a three-year long study, researchers from the us-based Johns Hopkins University collected 15,000 mosquitoes swarming around a jungle road in northeast Peru, and counted how many of these were Anopheles darlingi, the local malaria parasite. Using satellite images, they tallied the yearly figures with the level of deforestation caused by human activities.

They found that every one per cent increase in deforestation boosted the population of A darlingi by eight per cent. "This is happening because the mosquitoes thrive in open spaces," says Jonathan Patz, the lead author of the study. The researchers found that the mosquitoes run wild once 30-40 per cent of the forest is destroyed.

Patz is part of a group of scientists studying the impacts of environmental damage on the health of animals and humans. Dubbed 'conservation medicine', the field ranges from analysing the impacts of pollution on cancer to studying the contribution of global warming towards the demise of amphibians. Conservation medicine has gained recognition after the recent outbreaks of the West Nile virus and severe acute respiratory syndrome (sars) -- diseases which were able to cross the species barrier because of extensive environmental degradation.

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