Enfermedades infecciosas emergentes

La actual crisis de la biodiversidad no sólo se limita a la pérdida de hábitats y a la extinción de especies. También es una crisis de enfermedades infecciosas emergentes (EIE), tal como el VIH en los humanos, el ébola en humanos y gorilas, el virus del Nilo occidental y la influenza aviaria en humanos y aves, los hongos quítridos en anfibios y el moquillo en leones marinos. Hay razones para tomar esos acontecimientos muy en serio, porque las EIE parecen tener una larga historia evolutiva.

Ello se debe a que muchos patógenos pueden infectar a varios huéspedes, pero evolucionaron en lugares donde sólo algunos de esos huéspedes viven. Los patógenos también tienen medios especializados de transmisión de huéped a huésped. Si, por ejemplo, un patógeno es transmitido por un insecto que vive en las cimas de los árboles, los huéspedes susceptibles no resultarán infectados si nunca abandonan el suelo.

Para los humanos, el VIH, el ébola, el virus del Nilo occidental y la influenza aviaria son nada más las últimas de una larga serie de EIE. Cuando nuestros ancestros dejaron las selvas africanas y llegaron a las sabanas hace más de un millón de años, rápidamente se conviertieron en predadores eficaces. Al compartir las presas con carnívoros preexistentes, adquirieron solitarias que inicialmente sólo vivían en las hienas, los grandes felinos y los perros de las praderas africanos.

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