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Dr TIM ALLISON: Playing our part in tackling climate change and supporting the environment can help prevent future pandemics.

By Dr Tim Allison

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Covid risk is still out there.
Covid risk is still out there.

VIRUSES are still in the news despite other huge events – the war in Ukraine, the election to replace Boris Johnson or high temperatures with signs of climate change.

Covid remains circulating in the community at levels higher than for most of the pandemic, monkeypox has been declared a global health emergency by the World Health Organization and seabirds have been dying in their thousands from avian influenza.

Why do we continue to hear news about viruses when there is so much else going on? I think that there are two big reasons for this.

Firstly, viruses have been in existence for millions of years, evolving and multiplying along with animals and plants, adapting and changing to new environments. It only takes a little change in the virus or in the environment for viruses to spread rapidly as we have seen with Covid and the other viruses.

Secondly, the significant changes we see in the headlines can encourage viruses to multiply. The connection between climate change or habitat destruction and disease is becoming increasingly clear. More environmental pressure means that viruses are more likely to spread among animals and move to humans.

We can expect Covid to remain lurking close to the headlines, especially with new variants emerging.

One of these new variants is called Omicron BA 2.75 and it is an example of why we are likely to have further waves of infections over the coming year.

There are positive news stories though. New vaccines have been developed which are designed to work against both the original virus and against new variants, although we are not yet certain when they will be available.

People in the Highlands have been keen to be vaccinated against both Covid and influenza in previous rounds of vaccination. It is important that this enthusiasm is maintained in the autumn and further into the future so that we protect ourselves, our family, friends and especially the vulnerable.

We will need to work hard to keep Covid under control and to deal with new variants and expected waves of infection. Stopping future pandemics is a much bigger task but it is one we can’t ignore.

When we each play our part in tackling climate change or in supporting the natural environment we also contribute to the prevention of future pandemics.

Each of our individual contributions is small but it all adds up. It is like the way we deal with Covid now. Our individual actions to prevent infection are small but they combine with what other people are doing to have a big impact to stop disease spread and keep us all healthier.

n Dr Tim Allison is NHS Highland’s director of public health and policy.

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