Climate change on the agenda

Conference on climate change in Kosice
Climate change represents one of the greatest environmental, social and economic threats of today's world.

Destroyed crops, dried out water resources, limited fishing possibilities, spread of diseases, economic consequences, an increasing number of refugees. These are some of the impacts of climate change that are already negatively affecting life on the Earth. It is ourselves though, the humankind, we have to blame the most. These are some of the conclusions that were arrived at by the participants of the first international scientific conference 'The Impact of Global Change on the Environment, Human and Animal Health' that was held in Košice, Slovakia on 2 – 6 May 2017. 

From Nord University, Faculty of Biosciences and Aquaculture, the Vice Dean of Education Marit Bjørnevik attended, along with Associate Professor Ioannis Vatsos, Associate Professor Margarita Novoa Garrido, PhD student Marvin Choquet and Faculty Director Nina E. Høiskar participated. In addition, on behalf of Nord University, researcher Camilla Risvoll from Nordlandsforskning, and Associate Professor / veterinarian Ann Albihn from the National Veterinary Institute in Uppsala. Albihn is a participant in the research project "Climate Change Effects on the epidemiology of infectious diseases and the impacts on Northern Societies" (CLINF), funded by the Nordic Center of Excellence.

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Vice Dean of Education at Nord University, Faculty of Biosciences and Aquaculture, Marit Bjørnevik, held the opening speech.

Vice Dean Marit Bjørnevik emphasized in her opening speech that the conference represents an opportunity for researchers, academics and students to exchange knowledge and new ideas, and to find global partners for future cooperation. She believes this is a step towards identifying solutions to the impact of environmental changes on health.
– This conference represents a continuation of long-term cooperation between the two institutions in education, which is now further developed to include research, says Bjørnevik.

The Impact of Global Change on the Environment, Human and Animal Health

More than 110 experts from 13 countries and four continents attended the conference, which was jointly organized by the University of Veterinary Medicine and Pharmacy in Košice, Slovakia (UVMP in Košice) and Nord University. 
The conference was supported by a grant from Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein (EEA and Norway Grants 2009-2014 in Slovak Republic).

Man-made change

"Today we are 95% confident that a man-made change has a larger share of all changes than climate changes of natural origin," said a renowned Slovak climatologist Professor Milan Lapin from the Comenius University in Bratislava at the beginning of the conference. He warned of a serious threat that increase in temperature poses to life on the Earth: "To avoid the destructive effects of global and hence also climate changes, we must prevent the global average temperature from rising more than two degrees Celsius in a hundred years. However, those two degrees is a critical number, crossing of which will result in changes beyond our control."

Must prepare

Warming and climate change are connected to the amount of precipitation and its distribution across the globe, melting of snow and ice, average sea levels rise, and decrease in agricultural production. This will result in lack of drinking and non-potable water and spread of infectious diseases. "There definitely is a cause for concern. Global changes are bringing about enormous changes in epidemiological situation in Europe. We have been experiencing the emergence of new pathogens and vectors that transmit new diseases for which we are not prepared. This affects not only animal but, more importantly, human health. Tackling these consequences and creating an efficient prevention system is the challenge that human and veterinary medicine together with biologists are facing today. To put it simply, we must prepare people for threats that global changes carry," said the conference guarantor and the Rector of UVMP in Košice Professor Jana Mojžišová.

Tackling problems on an interdisciplinary level

Global changes do not involve only warming but also migration of people and animals as well as global trade in goods and animals. As a result, they have epidemiological, epizootiological, social and economic impacts. Therefore, the conference organizers sought to create a network of scientists, researchers and academics from various disciplines. "It was the first attempt to bring together biologists, ecologists, physicians and veterinary surgeons with physicists, economists, and social scientists to make a complex assessment of the impacts that these changes have. Although there have been many conferences on global changes, none of them has so far created space to tackle this problem on such an interdisciplinary level like this one," said the Chair of the Conference Organizing Committee and the Vice-rector for Foreign Studies of UVMP in Košice Dr. Martin Tomko. He added that the conference organizers formed a basis not only for the participants' regular meetings and exchange of knowledge, but also for setting up working groups and preparing highly topical international projects. He pointed out that although there have been five periods of mass extinction during 4.5 billion years of the Earth's existence, they were all a result of volcanic activity or space impacts: "The most recent one happened 65 million years ago. The dinosaurs that had been roaming the Earth for more than 200 million years died out then. If we want to escape their fate, we should lose no time in doing something about it. We are able to destroy this planet by our activity much sooner than anything else that came before us".

Species are spreading

According to a leading member of the Conference Organizing Committee, Associate Professor Alica Kočišová, the Head of the Institute of Parasitology of UVMP in Košice, the conference conveyed up-to-date knowledge that attracts attention of professional public: "Among other things they confirmed that new species of mosquitoes, sand flies from the family Psychodidae, ticks and biting midges from the family Ceratopogonidae are spreading from Asia and Africa to Europe and transmitting various pathogens. The environment here is warm and damp enough for them to survive and if they find suitable hosts, they can start spreading pathogens that have so far been considered only tropical or subtropical". She pointed out that the occurrence of Aedes albopictus, also known as Asian tiger mosquito has been reported in Slovakia. It is native to Asia and carries viruses and parasites. "New mosquito species Aedes koreicus and Aedes japonicus have also been reported in Europe. They have not been found in Slovakia yet, however, they have already been confirmed in Austria, Germany and Hungary. They were found in a very small amount of water in vases at cemeteries, which demonstrates their exceptional ability to adapt to the surrounding environment during reproduction. We began to monitor them last year and this year we are going to monitor them also in Košice," she said.

According to Associate Professor Kočišová, attention should also be paid to small sand flies from the Psychodidae family - vectors able to transmit protozoan parasites from the Leishmania genus. In Slovakia, these vectors were diagnosed for the first time last year. "They have spread worldwide, and each year there are more and more countries reporting endemic areas with visceral, dermal or a combined form of leishmaniasis. Its spread in Europe is particularly serious. Recent studies in Europe have confirmed the endemicity of leishmaniasis in northern Italy, France, Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia. Over the last 20 years, autochthonous cases of leishmaniasis in humans, cats, dogs and horses have been reported in Germany, Austria, Hungary and Romania".

There are also other organisms which used to be typical only of warmer areas threatening Europe today. For example, occurrence of sparganosis in wild boar has been reported in Poland. It is a rare parasitic infection caused by a tapeworm of the genus Spirometra, which could originally be found only in Asia and South America. Its life cycle includes two intermediate hosts and humans may acquire the infection either by drinking contaminated water or consuming undercooked infected meat. As a result, sparganosis may cause serious damage to their health.   

Suitable conditions for new species as a result of climate changes

"These examples demonstrate how species that would not have survived in our latitudes before are finding suitable conditions for their existence as a result of external changes. It will only be a matter of time before they start causing the same diseases as in the countries of their origin or the latitudes they are typical of," concluded Dr. Tomko.

Top picture:

PhD student Marvin Choquet from Nord University talks about why the planktonic copepod Calanus is important  

Supported by a grant from Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein:

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EEA GrantsNorway GrantsGovernment Office of the Slovak Republic
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​University of Veterinary Medicine
and Pharmacy in Kosice
​Nord University