TEPIC, Mexico, July 20 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The risk of being infected by the potentially fatal, rodent-borne Hantavirus could jump in Brazil's Sao Paulo state as climate change sends temperatures higher and farmers grow more sugarcane, said scientists.
More effective health education and pest control could help cut the risk of the disease in the area, along with forest restoration and better land use, wrote Brazilian and U.S. researchers in the journal PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases.
"Studies that concern this disease look at the virus aspect and not the landscape and climate aspect which is very important as it defines the species that transmits the disease and how people get infected," one of the study's authors, Paula Ribeiro Prist of the University of Sao Paulo, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The virus, which can be inhaled or caught via contact with rodent droppings or urine, causes Hantavirus Cardiopulmonary Syndrome (HCPS), which is fatal in more than half of cases.
No vaccine is available for HCPS and while the likelihood of catching it is rare, any potential rise in cases is significant given how deadly the disease is, said the report.
Warmer temperatures related to climate change and more land set aside for sugarcane, that rodents find nutritious, could boost rodent numbers and increase the time the virus is active in the environment, said scientists.
Increased sugarcane production alone could expose 20 percent more people to the risk of the disease in Brazil's wealthiest state, and this could rise to up to 34 percent by 2050 once temperature hikes are added to the mix, said the report.
Over 70 percent of those infected by HCPS in Sao Paulo state lived or worked in agricultural areas, and more than 90 percent were men, said the report.
Mixing increased forest cover with sugarcane plantations in Brazil, the world's biggest sugar producer, could help promote species diversification, cut rodent populations and reduce the risk of disease, said the scientists.
Better health programmes were needed to explain to sugarcane workers and people in rural areas how to avoid catching the virus, while cutting rodent populations could also help improve sugarcane yields.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, 690 cases of the disease had been reported in the United States by January 2016, with numerous cases in Latin American countries including Argentina, Venezuela and Panama. (Reporting by Sophie Hares; editing by Ros Russell. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org)