FUTURE HUMAN

8 New Diseases That Are Coming to Wipe Us Out

A scary group of ailments are lurking right around the corner — and there’s not much we can do to stop them

Markham Heid
OneZero
Published in
9 min readJul 11, 2018

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RRoughly 7.3 billion people inhabit the Earth, and that figure is expected to balloon to nearly 10 billion by 2050, according to United Nations estimates. All those people need places to live and food to eat. And that means recent global rises in urbanization, population migration, and the conversion of natural habitats to agricultural land are all likely to continue — and probably accelerate.

From the perspective of virologists and other people who study human disease, those are scary trends.

“The potential for new pathogens to emerge is great,” says Amanda McClelland, a senior vice president of the “prevent epidemics” team at the non-profit Resolve to Save Lives. McClelland says urbanization and climate change are almost-certain drivers of novel diseases or the reemergence of infections that were once well-contained. And there’s only so much she and other public health officials can do to foresee and contain outbreaks. “There’s a lot of work going on in terms of predicting where these could come from, but one thing we know is that viruses continue to surprise us,” she says. “Our models tell us where to look, but I’m sure there’ll be something we can’t prepare for.”

Other experts share her concerns.

Add in global changes to the ways people live and commingle, and many new health concerns are on the horizon.

“Habitat destruction and the loss of biodiversity can favor the types of species often responsible for infectious disease outbreaks,” says Richard Ostfeld, PhD, a distinguished senior scientist at the Carey Institute of Ecosystem Studies. Ostfeld explains that converting wild lands into food-producing ones and “chopping forests into little bits” scare away large predators and allow small animals — mice, rats, and other foragers — to thrive. “These are the species that tend to harbor dangerous pathogens,” he says.

Add in global changes to the ways people live and commingle, and many new health…

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Markham Heid
OneZero

I’m a long-time contributor at TIME and other media orgs. I write mostly about health. I grew up in Michigan, but these days I live in southwest Germany.