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Pathogens and the environment

Pathogens, such as the pathogen that causes malaria, adapt to take advantage of new opportunities to infect and spread through human populations. As equatorial-type climate zones spread north and south into what are currently subtropical and temperate climate zones, pathogens, infectious diseases, and any associated vectors are spreading into these areas where the disease has not previously been know to occur. Created by Sal Khan.

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  • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user GGatorZ21
    i hate mosquitoes.they are so annoying
    (3 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user Maddie
    ayo im kinda sad:c
    (2 votes)
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  • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user Animalia
    With all of the info about mosquito population growth at , it got me wondering about why that doesn't happen much where I live in the USA.
    There's a lake and houseboat marina an hour's drive from my house in TN, so during the Summer, the human population is pretty big, and there are also plenty of animals in the surrounding forests; making the area an all-you-can-eat buffet for mosquitoes.
    But there's another critter that lives in the area: spiders. They keep insects like flies and mosquitoes in check, since it's too noisy for bats.
    If spiders were introduced into mosquito-filled areas, would the human death toll from Malaria be reduced?
    (1 vote)
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Video transcript

- [Instructor] In this video, we're gonna be talking about pathogens and how an environment might help or hurt the spread of a pathogen. So first of all, let's make sure we know what a pathogen is. Patho comes from Greek pathos, which is referring to disease. Gen, you might recognize that part of word from words like generate or genetics. It means to produce. So a pathogen is something that produces disease. Now, a good example of a pathogen that we're still facing on our planet is malaria. And malaria is a very, very unpleasant disease. It involves the attack on red blood cells. It causes fever, chills, sweats, severe abdominal pain, vomiting, headaches. It can make you more susceptible to other diseases. And if it's not treated, it can kill someone. Now, the pathogen that creates or that produces malaria, that causes the disease malaria is known as plasmodium falciparum. And this right over here is a picture of it attacking red blood cells. We see healthy red blood cells right over here, and then the ones that are in this deep color, this is being attacked by the malaria pathogen. And as it does that, it destroys those red blood cells, and it leads to all of the symptoms that I talked about. So let's think a little bit about the environment in which malaria is likely to be spread. Well, there's a few things that we know. We know that the malaria pathogen can only operate, can only go through its full life cycle in relatively warm conditions. It needs to be greater than 20 degrees Celsius, which is the same thing as 68 degrees Fahrenheit. We also know that it is spread through mosquitoes, in particular this mosquito right over here, the anopheles mosquito. And mosquitoes are unpleasant even when they aren't zoomed in like this, but this is actually quite frightening. And we all know what mosquitoes like to do, at least to human beings. They drink our blood. And so you need an environment where both mosquitoes can thrive, and there's a lot of human hosts whose blood they can drink and where they can spread the malaria pathogen from one host to another. So ideally, you'd like a high population density. And for the mosquito spread, you definitely want a hot and humid environment. So you might guess that if you're looking for things that don't dip below this, because if you dip below this, the malaria pathogen's not going to be able to go through its life cycle, you're likely looking at regions in the Equator. And this map right over here confirms our intuition. What you see in these orange regions are where you see the highest prevalence of malaria. The yellow regions are where you might see malaria, but not as high of a prevalence. And then the blue areas are where you don't see malaria. And as we guessed, if you look generally at where the Equator is, that is where you're likely to see malaria because it is warmer there. You don't see temperatures dip. And then you also see hot, humid environments in Sub-Saharan Africa. The Sahara Desert is roughly right over there, and that is very dry, not good for mosquitoes. But if you look at Sub-Sahara right below this, you have a high prevalence of malaria. Now, one not so comforting realization is as the Earth warms, you're going to have more regions that are not just tropical regions, not just equatorial regions, that are going to be suitable for the spread of malaria. So easily you could have what are traditionally sub-tropical environments or even temperate environments that if it gets warm and hot and humid enough, you might see the spread of malaria over time. And malaria and the malaria pathogen aren't the only things that might spread. You have things like the Zika virus, which is a virus, not a protist in the case of malaria, but a virus that's also spread by mosquitoes. So it also thrives wherever mosquitoes might be able to thrive. And a warming, more humid environment isn't just going to support the spread of mosquitoes. It can support the spread of other pathogens, like bacteria, which can cause diseases like cholera, which is caused by infected water. So I'll leave you there. I like to be a little bit more upbeat about things. But it's just good to realize that this is out there. And as our environment changes, it's not just the environment that it affects, but it can also affect the spread of disease.