Brian Moench: Coronavirus only the beginning in a mismanaged world

(Muzzafar Kasim | Malaysia's Ministry of Health via AP) In this photo released by Malaysia's Ministry of Health, a health worker wearing a full protective suit waits for the arrival of evacuated Malaysians from China's Wuhan, the epicenter of the new coronavirus outbreak, at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang, Malaysia, Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020.

After its debut only a month ago, the coronavirus has ignited global panic, sending the world’s economy reeling, killing nearly 3,000 and infecting over 80,000 and counting.

Hong Kong’s leading public health epidemiologist is predicting that 60% of the world’s population will eventually be infected. If the mortality rate is 2.5% -- lower than it appears right now, and the same as the 1918 flu pandemic -- the worldwide death toll will be around 110 million people.

America’s newest infectious disease specialist, and no doubt soon to be our new surgeon general, Rush Limbaugh, has infected his 15 million listeners with his “knowledge” that, “not to worry,” the coronavirus is just the “common cold.” Dr. Limbaugh wants to convince us that concern over the looming pandemic is just another conspiracy from those who are desperate to stop America from becoming great again.

The person who awarded Limbaugh the Medal of Freedom, the self proclaimed “very stable genius,” “The Chosen One,” and by that I mean Ivanka Trump’s father, has endangered us all in multiple ways. He drastically cut the budget of the Centers for Disease Control, fired the CDC’s pandemic response team, he and his cronies declared the virus has been contained in the United States when the CDC just warned that America could see “severe disruption of everyday life,” and his State Department overruled the CDC allowing infected people to return to this country. Donald Trump has even joined Limbaugh in spreading fake news that the heat of the coming summer months will kill the virus.

The financial markets obviously don’t believe a word he says.

[Read also: Sen. Mitt Romney: Trump administration ‘substantially’ unprepared for coronavirus outbreak in the United States]

The CDC’s expert said that it’s not a matter of if but when the coronavirus spreads across the country. The non-Trump/Limbaugh branch of the scientific community would suggest that the coronavirus should prompt concern that new and emerging infectious threats to the global human population will only increase.

The World Health Organization warned that increasing urbanization, accelerating antimicrobial resistance and the climate crisis will combine to spread more dangerous infections worldwide.

In a hotter, more humid climate, carriers like ticks, mosquitoes, mice and rats will thrive and broaden their seasonal and geographic range, spreading infectious diseases more easily. Shorter winters allow increased life cycles for many insect pests. Malaria, West Nile, dengue fever, coccidioidomycosis, Zika, chagas, Lyme disease, yellow fever, chikungunya, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Rift Valley fever, Japanese encephalitis, leishmaniasis and hantavirus are just some of the infectious diseases that are likely to increase in frequency and scope due to the climate crisis.

Urbanization, rising sea levels and deforestation are human-caused disruptions of habitat that are forcing wildlife to increase their contact with humans. Seventy-five percent of new infectious diseases -- like the coronavirus, SARS, AIDS, and Zika -- have been transmitted from animals to humans.

Cycles of drought punctuated by heavy rainfall and flooding, part and parcel of the climate crisis, provide prime breading ground for mosquitoes. An increase of 0.1 degree C triggers a ten-fold increase in mosquito populations. A changing climate enables mosquitoes to evolve more rapidly, creating more species that could threaten humans.

A giant species of mosquito known as “gallinippers,” specializes in emerging after flooding events and hurricanes. They can bite right through a cow’s hide. Heavy rain favors mosquitoes transmitting diseases like malaria, while drought favors transmission of diseases like West Nile.

Waterborne infectious diseases like cholera can explode with severe drought and compromised sanitation, while excess rainfall and flooding set the stage for other waterborne infectious diseases like cryptosporidium from overrun sewage treatment infrastructure or the contamination of water by livestock. Algal blooms of toxic cyanobacteria, like those in Utah Lake, are increasing in a warmer climate in fresh water lakes throughout the world.

Trump sees no issue beyond how it affects his re-election prospects, even the catastrophe of a global pandemic. Everyone just move along, nothing to see here, let’s get that stock market rolling again.

Ironically, people like Limbaugh and Trump would both fall into the category of those at increased risk for life threatening complications from the coronavirus. But if Americans continue to allow our country to be run by people who set fire to science, reality, truth and facts, a coronavirus pandemic will be just the beginning of a long, losing battle of humans vs. mother nature.

Scott Sommerdorf

Brian Moench, M.D., is president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment and author of the non-fiction book, “Death by Corporation: Killing Humankind in the Age of Monster Corporations.”