Cutting Rainforests Leads to More Malaria: Study

Dec 9, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Deforestation in the Amazon. What's that buzz? (Photo: Threat to Democracy/Creative Commons)

Cutting down rainforests isn’t just bad for animals, the climate, biodiversity and plant life, a new study from researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison shows: it also leads to higher incidences of malaria.

What’s the link? The threat comes from one of the few winners when large swaths of old-growth forests are chopped down: mosquitoes.

According to ScienceDaily, a study by U.S. researchers compares information from 54 health districts in Brazil with high resolution satellite pictures of deforestation, showing that forest clearing can raise cases of malaria by 50 percent in localized areas.

Clearing rainforests leaves open areas that are easy breeding grounds for mosquitoes, which spread the tropical disease.

Researchers Sarah Olson and Jonathan Patz of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health published the study in the Centers for Disease Control journal Emerging Infectious Diseases

In one case, Patz and Olson found that a clearance of just 4.2 percent of forested land corresponded with a 48 percent increase in malaria cases, according to ABC News Health and Science Editor Maggie Fox

Olson told the University of Madison-Wisconsin news site:

“It appears that deforestation is one of the initial ecological factors that can trigger a malaria epidemic.”

The new study attained a high level of detail, Fox writes, investigating 15,000 malaria cases from a single year (2006).

The study particulars have a lot to do with precipitation and the extent of wetlands in various regions of the Amazon or, in the science-speak of the text of the report:

“Using monthly reports of malaria and precipitation from across the Brazilian Amazon Basin, we demonstrate that malaria incidence and precipitation patterns vary throughout this large region and are influenced by the extent of wetlands.”

Malaria is a life-threatening disease that killed an estimated 1 million people in 2008, most of them African children, according to the World Health Organization. The malady is both preventable and curable.

Photo: Threat to Democracy/Creative Commons via Flickr