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DominicY's avatar

Why are there so many viruses and diseases in the rainforest?

Asked by DominicY (5657points) March 30th, 2016

It seems like the world’s worst diseases: HIV, ebola, etc. originated in the rainforest (particularly, the Congo Rainforest). What is it about the rainforest that allows these horrifying diseas and viruses to exist?

Is it simply a result of warm and humid climate? The diversity of animals and plants? The “unexplored” nature of it? Richard Preston, in his non-fiction book The Hot Zone, suggests that the viruses are a natural protection for the rainforest: that they signify areas that humans are not meant to encroach upon. Interesting, but I don’t know if I buy it.

What do you think?

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14 Answers

LazyMe10's avatar

I’ve read Hot Zone, an I never want to go to Africa or even a damn rain forest for that matter. That book terrified me!

But I do think the forest did create the disease to keep people or certain beasts away from areas. Or it manifested over time with a mix of other things lurking about and they formed something worse. But who really knows…

zenvelo's avatar

An interesting question of evolutionary biology. Given the warm damp atmosphere, an excellent incubator, viruses are more likely to thrive on the diversity of bacteria.

You don’t hear of such viruses coming out of other rainforests, like Borneo or the Amazon.

DominicY's avatar

^That’s one thing I’ve also wondered about. Other tropical rainforests, like the Borneo forest or the Amazon don’t seem to produce these diseases with the rate that the Central African forests do. Even Zika, despite its presence in South America, originated in Central Africa. What is it about that part of the world?

Pandora's avatar

@DominicY I don’t think that the Amazon is more immune but rather it has diseases that probably don’t spread as quickly because there are a lot of sections that people don’t live in or have easy transportation too. Where I think Africa is heavily traveled in most of it’s countries from people all over the globe. Africa has about 3 times the population of South America. Poverty plays a part as well but South America has poverty problems as well. It could also be that the rain forest in South America are cooler. So it could be the cooler temperatures keep some viruses at bay especially since it is lower on the map and they actually get winters. Lack of trees also make places hotter. I went to Costa Rica and even when the temperature reached in the 90’s it was a comfortable 90 degree temperature because of the trees everywhere that gave plenty of shade. As we drove up to the higher elevations the temperature would drop for 10 to 15 degrees and went swimming in their ponds in the forest where the water was a cool 55 degrees. And Costa Rica is pretty much on Par with Puerto Rico and Puerto Rico is hotter and muggier at 90 degrees, even in their rain forests.
So my point is that I think location, population, poverty, sanitation and weather all play a part in the kind of diseases that come from different locations. So it could be the viruses that come out of South America are just short lived or don’t have the opportunity to spread.

stanleybmanly's avatar

Heat and humidity = heaven for bacteria, viruses, fungi as well as an abundance of creatures to transport and distribute them. Africa has a surplus of people that has been available to these pathogens a great deal longer than anywhere else. There are also an abundance of near relatives of us in huge quantities and greater variety than anywhere else. Unfortunately for us, anything originating in Africa is destined within months to inhabit the rest of the tropics due to the hordes of us moving around.

kritiper's avatar

Because it is warm and moist, a great growth medium.

Cupcake's avatar

This might be of interest to you. It lists the contributing factors to emerging infectious diseases.

I took a graduate course in emerging infectious diseases a handful of years ago. It was fascinating… but scientifically complex and I don’t remember much off the top of my head.

dappled_leaves's avatar

At a guess, because what kills viruses and diseases naturally are cold and dryness. The rainforest is consistently warm and wet. All kinds of life flourish in those conditions, which is why biodiversity is very high there. Diseases and viruses just happen to be ones that we worry about.

And yes, it can be argued that viruses are not “alive” as such, but since their hosts are thriving in that environment, they can thrive, too.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Well, humans came out of the rainforest too.

Pandora's avatar

@Dutchess_III I don’t know if you can compare us to a virus or disease but I can see us as the leeches to the planet. So it’s only fair that mother nature tries to kill or control our numbers.

cazzie's avatar

I live in the cold, dark and dryness and I can attest that it doesn’t kill anything but hope and the willingness to live. It has more to do with the diversity and adaptation techniques in the jungle areas. Adaptation occurs faster anywhere there are faster lifecycles. It has more to do with the turn over of generations than anything else. The ability to create offspring or generations that become better adapted to their environment encourages a more robust means better chances for successful further generations. It is the power of DNA. With each generation, the better honed the ability to exploit hosts and environment to increase efficiency for more progeny.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I’m just saying that the rain forest is very prolific, @Pandora.

AuroraMeloncholy's avatar

In my opinion, it’s not that rainforests have more diseases but that they have more we’re not used to.

Dutchess_III's avatar

No, I’m pretty sure it has more. It’s just like a petri dish that’s had millions of years to do its thing.

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