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Emerging Infectious Diseases in Response to Climate Change


for Members

Emerging Infectious Diseases in Response to Climate Change

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The New York Academy of Sciences

Human activities have caused sharp increases in atmospheric greenhouse gasses and aerosols, which are very likely causing significant changes in climate. These include increases in the global average temperatures - enhanced over land and in Arctic regions, changes in seasonality, ocean warming, more intense precipitation and alterations to the rainfall patterns - particularly in the tropics and sub-tropics.

Climate and weather are important components of complex ecosystems, and with these changes, the dynamic balance between the living components of ecosystems is often disturbed. Ecosystem instability can result in changes in pathogen prevalence, altered pathogen transmission profiles, and increased host susceptibility. These instabilities can have dramatic affects on the health of humans, livestock, wildlife, and marine systems.

Climate change combined with increased global mobility is resulting in previously unforeseen evolution of newly emerging infectious diseases worldwide, reemergence of diseases previously under control and redistribution of diseases across the planet. This symposium examines the complex relationship between the climate, environment, and infectious diseases. Experts in climate change, climate policy, emerging infectious diseases and public health will discuss the relevant and pressing issues that we as a global community face, and possible solutions that can be instituted.


* presentations subject to change

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

8:30 – 9:00 AM


9:00 – 9:10 AM

Welcome and Introductory Remarks
Jennifer Henry, PhD, New York Academy of Sciences

9:10 – 10:30 AM

Links Between Climate and Infectious Diseases, Session I
Climate Change and Uncertainties
Gavin Schmidt, NASA
Climate Change and Infectious Disease: Point, Counterpoint, and New Approaches
Richard Ostfeld, Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies

10:30 – 11:00 AM

Coffee Break

11:00 AM – 12:20 PM

Links Between Climate and Infectious Diseases, Session II
Climate Information for Public Health: Challenges and Opportunities
Madeleine Thomson, Columbia University
Measuring the Consequences of Climate Change: Sustainable Global Surveillance and Response to Emerging Infectious Disease
Jerry Keusch, Boston University School of Public Health

12:20 – 1:20 PM


1:20 – 3:20 PM

Case Studies
The Influence of Increasing Temperature on Mountain Pine Beetle Outbreaks and Associated Tree Mortality in Western North America
Barbara Bentz, US Forest Service
Effects on Potato Late Blight and Plant Diseases with Similar Epidemiology
Adam Sparks, Kansas State University
Schistosomiasis in Egypt and Relevant Research Elsewhere
John Malone, Louisiana State University

3:20 – 3:40 PM

Coffee Break

3:40 – 4:20 PM

Public Health Policy
Stephen S. Morse
, Columbia University

4:20 – 4:55 PM

Panel Discussion
Moderator: Dickson Despommier, Columbia University
Richard Ostfeld, Madeleine Thomson and Jerry Keusch

4:55 – 5:00 PM

Closing Remarks
Dickson Despommier, Columbia University

5:00 – 6:00 PM




Dickson Despommier

Columbia University

Dickson Donald Despommier received his B.S. in biology from Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey, then his M.S. from Columbia University in New York. Finally, he earned the Ph.D. degree in microbiology from the University of Notre Dame. He is a Professor of Public Health and Microbiology at Columbia University. For 27 years, he conducted NIH-sponsored laboratory-based research on a parasitic nematode, Trichinella spiralis. However, his long-term interests center around the environment and the ecology of infectious disease transmission. He co-authored a book on parasitic infections (Parasitic Diseases 5th ed.), and authored one on the West Nile virus (West Nile Story). He has published over 65 peer-reviewed scientific articles and numerous reviews on a variety of subjects, mostly dealing with parasitic infections, the ecology of infectious diseases, or the concept of the vertical farm. He has delivered over 100 invited lectures on subjects ranging from infectious diseases to urban agriculture.

Stephen S. Morse

Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health

Gavin Schmidt



Barbara Bentz

US Forest Service

Barbara J. Bentz is a Research Entomologist with the USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station located in Logan, Utah. Barbara has been with the research branch of the Forest Service for more than 20 years. Barbara completed a BS in Forestry from Stephen F. Austin State University (1981), an MS in Forestry from the University of Idaho (1984), and a PhD in Entomology from Virginia Tech (1991). Her research has focused on population and community dynamics of native bark beetles, in particular the influence of temperature on population success. She has authored or coauthored more than 50 publications, and presented more than 50 invited presentations on native bark beetles of western North America. Barbara has been instrumental in collection of field and laboratory data that are the basis for several models used for predicting potential effects of climate change on bark beetle disturbance events in western North America. Her research interests also include describing genetic variation within bark beetle species, especially in temperature-dependent traits that may be significantly affected by a changing environment. Barbara’s research is directly tied to management of National Forest Service land, informing decisions that are adaptive to changing environments. Barbara is married and she had her husband are parents to a 10 year old son. As a family, they love to ski, hike and paddle kayaks.

Gerald T. Keusch

Boston University School of Public Health

Dr. Keusch is a graduate of Columbia College and Harvard Medical School. He has been involved in academic medicine for his entire career, currently as Professor of Medicine and International Health at Boston University where he serves as Associate Director of the National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratory and Special Assistant to the University President for Global Health. His research has focused on infectious diseases relevant to developing countries, from molecular pathogenesis to field research on diarrheal disease, nutrition, and HIV/AIDS. He is the author of over 300 original publications, reviews and book chapters, and the editor of 8 scientific books. Over his career he has received all three major awards of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, including the Squibb, Finland and Bristol awards. He has served as President of the Massachusetts Infectious Diseases Society and on the Council of the Infectious Diseases Society of America. He is an elected member of the American Society for Clinical Investigation, the Association of American Physicians, and the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies of Science, where he is a member of the Board on Global Health and the Roundtable on Science and Technology for Sustainability. Dr. Keusch was the Co-Chair of an IOM/NRC Report released in September 2009 entitled “Sustaining Global Surveillance and Response to Emerging Infectious Diseases”. Prior to his present appointments, Dr. Keusch was Associate Director for International Research in the office of the Director, and Director of the Fogarty International Center at the National Institutes of Health.

John Malone

Louisiana State University

John B Malone is a professor of parasitology at the Louisiana State University School of Veterinary Medicine. He received a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree at the University of California at Davis in 1967 and a PhD from the University of Georgia in 1974. Dr Malone has been at LSU since he joined the faculty of the newly established veterinary school at LSU in 1974. His research interests focus on use of earth observing satellite imagery and geographic information systems to evaluate the suitability of the environment for disease agents. Early work in Louisiana on use of climate forecasts and geospatial methods in control of Fasciola in cattle developed into international health research involvements on schistosomiasis and other vector-borne diseases in Egypt, Ethiopia, Brazil and China. Dr. Malone was a Fulbright Senior Scholar in Egypt in 1991 and a Visiting Scientist at the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization in 1996. He was a 2000 recipient of the Pfizer Award for Excellence in Research. He is past-president of the American Association of Veterinary Parasitologists and the Global Network for Geospatial Health-GnosisGIS.

Stephen S. Morse

Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health

Stephen S. Morse, Ph.D. is Professor of Clinical Epidemiology at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, and Director of the USAID-funded PREDICT program (a new research project to strengthen global capacity for identification, surveillance, and risk assessment of zoonotic pathogens of human pandemic disease potential). He was previously Founding Director of the Columbia University Center for Public Health Preparedness. Dr. Morse is also an Adjunct Faculty member in The Rockefeller University, and Visiting Professor at the University of California, Davis. In 1996-2000 (on loan from Columbia), he was Program Manager for Biodefense at the federal Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), where his portfolio included co-directing the “Pathogen Countermeasures” program, and directing the “Advanced Diagnostics” program as well as managing DARPA’s research collaborations with former Soviet scientists. Before that, he was Assistant Professor (Virology) in The Rockefeller University, New York.

Dr. Morse chaired the 1989 National Institutes of Health (NIH) Conference on Emerging Viruses, for which he originated the concept of “emerging viruses”/emerging infectious diseases, and was a member of the “Committee on Emerging Microbial Threats to Health” (1990-1992) at the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies of Sciences (IOM). Dr. Morse was founding Chair of ProMED (the international Program to Monitor Emerging Diseases) and of ProMED-mail, an international network inaugurated by ProMED in 1994 for outbreak reporting and disease monitoring using the Internet. He was a founding Section Editor of the CDC journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, and currently serves on the Steering Committee of the IOM "Forum on Microbial Threats" and on several NAS/IOM committees, government advisory panels, and journal editorial boards. He is a Fellow of the New York Academy of Sciences, and a past Chair of its Microbiology Section, and a Fellow of the AAAS, the American Academy of Microbiology, the American College of Epidemiology, the New York Academy of Medicine, and a life member of the Council on Foreign Relations. “American Scientist” selected his book Emerging Viruses (Oxford University Press, 1993) for its list of “The Top 100 Science Books of the [20th] Century”. Dr. Morse received his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His research interests include epidemiology, surveillance and pathogenesis of emerging infectious diseases (including pandemic influenza), and global health.

Richard Ostfeld

Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies

Richard S. Ostfeld is Senior Scientist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, a not-for-profit research institution in Millbrook, New York, dedicated to providing the science behind environmental solutions. He is also Adjunct Professor at Rutgers University and the University of Connecticut. His training was at the University of California-Berkeley (PhD) and University of California-Santa Cruz (BA). He has published >150 peer-reviewed articles and co-edited 4 books, including most recently a Princeton University Press volume on Disease Ecology (2008). His research focuses on ecological determinants of human risk of exposure to infectious diseases, emphasizing Lyme and other tick-borne diseases as well as West Nile Virus. His lab group has discovered novel mechanisms by which biodiversity protects human health by reducing rates of pathogen transmission. His research has been covered on National Public Radio (All Things Considered, Life on Earth, and Science Friday), the New York Times, USA Today, The Associated Press, Reuters, the Los Angeles Times, the Boston Globe, BBC World Service, Oregon Public Broadcasting, among others. He sits on the editorial boards of Ecology and Vector-borne and Zoonotic Diseases. Ostfeld has recently established, with William Schlesinger, a new series of scholarly review articles called The Year in Ecology and Conservation Biology, which is published under the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences in partnership with Wiley-Blackwell. His book Ecology of Lyme disease: questioning dogma, embracing complexity will be published by Oxford University Press in 2010.

Madeleine Thomson

Columbia University

Madeleine Thomson is a Senior Research Scientist at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI), where she chairs the Africa Regional Programme, directs Impacts Research and supports the activities of the IRI-PAHO-WHO Collaborating Centre. She trained originally as a medical entomologist and spent five years working as senior entomologist at the UK medical research council laboratories in West Africa (in Bo, Sierra Leone and in Banjul, the Gambia). She has spent much of her career engaged in operational research in support of large-scale health interventions (control of onchocerciasis, malaria and kala azar, trypanosomiasis, etc.), mostly in Africa. She has also worked in support of vector control in refugee and emergency settings. Her research focuses on improving our understanding of the impact of climate variability and change on health outcomes and on the development of new tools for improving climate sensitive health interventions (riskmapping and early warning systems for example). This work has expanded into air-borne infections and includes a substantive programme in conjunction with WHO and partners for meningitis environmental risk assessment in anticipation of the new conjugate A vaccine for Africa (the MERIT project). In recent years, she has become increasingly interested in improving institutional and human capacity for incorporating climate information into public health planning. To help achieve the latter, she is working to create a 'health and climate' disciplinary interface.

Gavin Schmidt


Gavin Schmidt is a climate scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York. He works on understanding how climate changed in the past, why it is changing now, and what might be expected in the future. He has worked on outreach with the American Museum of Natural History and the New York Academy of Science, is a contributing editor to, and has appeared on the Daily Show. He is the co-author of "Climate Change: Picturing the Science" with Josh Wolfe published by W. W. Norton in 2009.

Adam Sparks

Kansas State University

Adam Sparks is a research associate at Kansas State University in the Department of Plant Pathology in Manhattan, Kansas. His work interests include epidemiology and the ecology of plant diseases; GIS applications in plant pathology; and climate change effects on plant disease. Currently he is working on the effects of climate change on global potato late blight risk and modeling Fusarium head blight or head scab. He is a co-author of Plant pathogens as indicators for climate change, Chapter in Climate Change Indicators, edited by T.M. Letcher.


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  • Abstracts

    Climate Changes and Uncertainties

    Gavin Schmidt, NASA

    Climate changes as a function of increasing amounts of (mostly) greenhouse gases are inevitable, but uncertain. I will give an overview of what the science robustly shows and where there are still large uncertainties, along with strategies for how these uncertainties might be reduced. I will also look at factors and diagnostics that might be relevant for climate change impacts on disease vectors and ecosystems.

    Climate change and infectious disease: point, counterpoint, and new approaches

    Richard S. Ostfeld, Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies

    Anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions are causing rapid climate warming that will affect many ecological and socioeconomic systems. In the 1990s several research groups produced models that predicted large-scale expansions of human infectious diseases, including malaria and dengue, resulting from climate change. The models were based on empirical evidence showing that rates of pathogen replication and rates of vector (mosquito) development, survival, and human biting were correlated with temperature. Predicted expansion of infectious diseases immediately entered public policy discussions about the hazards of climate warming. In response, some researchers argued that these predictions were alarmist and irresponsible. This counterpoint was based largely on three assertions: (1) With climate warming, diseases should shift geographically without net expansion; (2) non-climatic factors are more important than climate; and (3) predicted increases in disease risk with warming are irrelevant if transmission remains below a specific threshold: R0 = 1.0. Ostfeld’s talk will consider these assertions using ecological data and argue that, although each has some merit, they do not undermine the evidence that climate warming has, and will continue to, exacerbate some infectious diseases. Evidence supports climate as one of several critical ecological and socioeconomic factors that affect disease incidence. Integrating the importance of climate and non-climatic factors remains a key challenge. Reducing morbidity and mortality from infectious disease will be one of the myriad benefits of curtailing climate warming.

    Climate Information for Public Health: Challenges and Opportunities

    Madeleine Thomson, Columbia University

    Climate change is recognized as one of the defining challenges of the 21st century and protecting health from its impacts is a priority for the public health community. Climate-related health impacts are especially pronounced in poor populations, primarily in developing countries, where vulnerable people lack the basic infrastructure to cope with climate variability and change. However, current investments in infectious disease control (e.g. malaria) should not be undermined by a changing donor agenda. Instead, they should be reinforced by incorporating climate knowledge and information into climate sensitive health decision-making. Increasing the health community’s capacity to understand, use, and demand appropriate climate information is of primary importance to efforts to both mitigate the health impacts of climate change and deliver current health interventions in a varying climate.

    Measuring the consequences of climate change: Sustainable global surveillance and response to emerging infectious disease.

    Gerald T. Keusch, Boston University School of Public Health

    The majority of drivers of infectious disease agent emergence are non-biological, but rather are ecological, including changes likely to follow climate change, that affect interactions between humans, animals, and vectors. Recent studies have mapped ecological “hot-spots” where these drivers aggregate; they also tend to be in developing countries where surveillance capacity is limited. Therefore, there is urgent need to establish a sustainable global surveillance system linked to rapid response to an emergence as a collaboration between international, national and local players to identify events and act to mitigate adverse health impacts on humans and animals. This presentation will review the findings of a newly released National Academies report addressing these issues and outline a call to action

    The influence of increasing temperature on mountain pine beetle outbreaks and associated tree mortality in western North America

    Barbara J. Bentz, US Forest Service

    The mountain pine beetle, Dendroctonus ponderosae (Coleoptera: Curculionidae, Scolytinae), is a phytophagous, eruptive insect species with an expansive range extending across western North America from southern California to central British Columbia, Canada. Mountain pine beetle live in and feed on all species of Pinus within its range, and are responsible for millions of acres of dead trees throughout western North America. Mountain pine beetle outbreak frequency has increased in recent years, including areas where outbreak populations were previously not observed or only recorded infrequently, including sensitive, high elevation white pine forests of western North America. As an ectotherm, critical physiological processes are highly sensitive to temperature, and population eruptions are influenced by shifts in environmental changes, in addition to conditions of the host tree at multiple scales. The recent explosion in mountain pine beetle activity is thought to be a direct result of warming temperatures that have increased survival and sped up development time. I will describe how temperature influences mountain pine beetle populations and discuss several temperature-dependent models we have developed to predict population success in a changing climate. Geographic variability in population response to temperature and potential range expansion into naïve pine forests will also be discussed.

    Schistosomiasis in Egypt and relevant research elsewhere

    John B. Malone, Louisiana State University

    Biology-driven models based on known thermal-moisture regime requirements and thresholds of Schistosoma spp. life cycles can be utilized to forecast the potential impact of climate change and climate variability on the distribution of schistosomiasis in different predicted scenarios of increase in temperature and rising sea level. Growing degree day (GDD) models, climate surface grid data and topographic maps were used to develop predictive risk maps on transmission of Schistosoma mansoni and S. haematobium in the Nile Delta using geospatial methods similar to those recently reported for  S. japonicum in China.  Climate grid data included monthly long-term-normal high and low temperature, rainfall, potential evapotranspiration (PET) and the ratio of rain to PET (water budget).  The GDD models were based on literature reports on the accumulated number of GDD required to complete the respective life cycle, reported climate limiting factors, and base temperature thresholds of 14.7°C, 15.3°C and 15.4°C, respectively,  for life cycle progression of the S. mansoni-Biomphalaria pheifferi, S. haematobium-Bulinus truncatus  and S. japonicum-Oncomelania hupensis parasite-intermediate host systems.

    Global Potato Late Blight Risk in Response to Climate Change, Possible Futures for a Historic Disease

    Adam Sparks, Kansas State University

    Plant disease development is driven by three factors: a susceptible host, the presence of a competent pathogen (and vector if necessary), and conducive environment. Plant disease will respond to climate change due to the role of environment in disease risk. There are many models that predict potato late blight risk using weather data for management within growing seasons. However, they rely upon weather data collected in hourly, or finer, increments. This is a major constraint when predicting late blight risk at large scales and under global climate change. Many global weather or climate change model summary datasets are available as monthly summaries. We created metamodels based on daily and monthly weather values which adapt an accepted potato late blight risk model for use with these coarser forms of data using generalized additive models. These new models were used to map global late blight risk under current and future climate change scenarios. Risk maps appear to indicate current relative global late blight risk accurately. Under future climate scenarios, some regions experience decreased late blight risk, such as North Korea, while others experience increased risk, such as Nepal.

    Public Health Policy

    Stephen S. Morse, Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health

    Infectious diseases remain major causes of illness and death worldwide; we additionally face new and often unanticipated infectious disease threats, such as HIV/AIDS, pandemic influenza, and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). Mosquito-borne diseases like dengue and West Nile, and their mosquito vectors, also continue to expand their range. Many of these emerging infections (infections that have newly appeared, or are rapidly increasing in incidence or geographic range) are zoonotic (natural infections of other species) and are precipitated by environmental changes, often anthropogenic. While the effects of climate change on infectious disease distribution and transmission are condition dependent and therefore difficult to predict exactly, impacts are likely to be profound. Vector- or rodent-borne diseases shift distribution to follow changes in temperature or humidity. Many classically “seasonal” infections will likely be affected (e.g., influenza shows only a winter peak in temperate climates, but manifests two peaks a year in subtropical regions). The dependence on local conditions, and the complexity of possible outcomes, indicates that public health policy should first emphasize prevention whenever possible. To anticipate infectious disease consequences, global surveillance of zoonotic infections in their natural host species and at the interfaces between humans and other animals is essential, in order to identify significant changes at the earliest possible stages (when disease prevention or amelioration may still be feasible). We need deeper understanding of ecological and environmental drivers of disease emergence, distribution and transmission -- and of their interactions -- with improved predictive risk modeling, to better predict likely outcomes of climate changes and to help develop and target appropriate actions.

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