La menace des maladies infectieuses émergente

La crise de la biodiversité que nous traversons aujourd'hui ne touche pas seulement des habitats perdus et des espèces éteintes. Elle concerne aussi les maladies infectieuses émergentes, comme le VIH chez les humains, le virus Ébola chez les gorilles et les humains, le virus du Nil occidental et la grippe aviaire chez les humains et les oiseaux, les chytrides chez les amphibiens et la maladie de Carré chez les lions de mer. La longue histoire de l'évolution des maladies infectieuses émergentes nous donne toutes les raisons de prendre ces phénomènes au sérieux.

Il existe de nombreux agents pathogènes capables d'infecter toute une gamme d'hôtes, mais qui ont évolué dans les endroits où vivent un nombre limité de ces hôtes. En outre, les agents pathogènes possèdent des moyens de transmission spécialisés. Si, par exemple, l'un d'entre eux se transmet par un insecte qui vit au sommet des arbres, les hôtes susceptibles d'être infectés ne le seront pas s'ils ne quittent jamais le sol.

Pour les humains, le VIH, Ébola, le virus du Nil et la grippe aviaire ne sont que les derniers en date d'une longue liste de maladies infectieuses émergentes. Lorsque nos ancêtres ont quitté la forêt africaine pour la savane voici plus d'un million d'années, ils sont rapidement devenus des prédateurs efficaces. En partageant leurs proies avec des carnivores qui existaient déjà avant eux, ils ont attrapé des ténias qui ne parasitaient à l'origine que des hyènes, des félins et des lycaons.

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