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Urban expansion leads to the spread of infectious diseases

Whilst urban living offers many benefits to society such as greater job prospects, higher incomes, better travel connections and hubs for innovation and creativity, the rapid expansion of urban environments - known as urbanisation - also brings challenges.

New research by the University of Lincoln has highlighted how urban expansion is creating the conditions for infectious diseases to emerge and spread around the world by blurring the traditional boundaries between city, suburb, and countryside.

The process of urbanisation has contributed to the rise in the total number of disease outbreaks per decade since the 1980s.

Where urban settings expand at the periphery of cities - sometimes called 'extended urbanisation' - the spatial relationships which shape how millions of people live and interact with each other and with nature are fundamentally altered.

Image credit: Boon Edam

New ecological niches for the spread of diseases are created in the process and lead to the global outbreaks of dangerous diseases that devastate humanity.

The recent SARS and Ebola outbreaks are high-profile examples of epidemics which originated in these new types of suburban hinterland before spreading to much larger, established cities.

The current COVID-19 pandemic provides an opportunity to better understand the changing spatial relationships between cities, suburbs and countryside, the factors that shape these changes, and effective ways to adapt to them in order to reduce the risk of future outbreaks of infectious diseases and limit their spread when outbreaks do occur.

It is important that a range of players are involved in the learning process, including government bodies, public health policymakers, schools, those in charge of transport and infrastructure, and, of course, the general public.


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