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Archive for Sunday, May 4, 2003

Plants, wildlife also being hit with new germs

May 4, 2003

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— Humans are not the only victims of a sharp increase in infectious diseases, experts say.

Wildlife, birds, fish, coral, and forests and other plants are all being hit hard by new germs, sometimes driven to the verge of extinction, according to recent studies.

"The same environmental and global conditions (that have increased infection rates among humans) are affecting emerging diseases in agriculture, forests, wildlife and marine ecosystems," said Dr. Paul Epstein, associate director of Harvard Medical School's Center for Health and Global Environment.

New infectious diseases constitute "a substantial threat to the conservation of global biodiversity," said Peter Dezak, a University of Georgia ecologist, in a 2000 report in the journal Science.

Among the epidemics:

l Frogs and other amphibians have been dying off in record numbers, apparently because of a fungal disease.

l Bison herds in Yellowstone National Park are being decimated by brucellosis, a wasting disease.

l Several species of California trees are dying of a fungus related to the one that caused the Irish potato famine.

l Undersea coral is nearing extinction in some locales because of a mysterious bleaching disease.

Elsewhere, gorillas have been hard hit by the Ebola virus in Africa, said Stanford University medicine professor Dr. Stan Deresinski, editor of Infectious Disease Alert. The cassava -- a staple of the African diet -- has been hit with a virus carried by white flies.

In Florida, the endangered scrub jay regularly is shoved closer to extinction by new diseases, said Frank Gill, director of science for the National Audubon Society.

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