(ORDO NEWS) — Much has been said about the climate crisis, but one point is often overlooked. Melting permafrost in Siberia and the Himalayas is releasing ancient viruses and bacteria. Some are not known to medicine at all, and there is no cure for them. So epidemics await us, in comparison with which the coronavirus is just a mild cold.
let alone a year of a pandemic, mankind is impatient to write off covid-19 as a bad memory. The illusion arises that as soon as we overcome this nightmare, we will be able to regain control over life exactly at the point where we have lost it. We will travel again and hug each other without any fear of infection.
But over this long year, the climate crisis has not stopped destroying our planet, and if sooner or later the coronavirus epidemic weakens or it can be controlled to some extent, then the climate warming will not stop after the development of mass immunity. Rising temperatures lead to the melting of the most ancient ice, for example, in the Himalayas and Siberia, it upsets the balance of ecosystems, leads to the inevitable disappearance of biodiversity, damages water supply and food supply.
In addition, melting glaciers increase the risk of spreading dangerous viruses. Therefore, if, after the end of the covid-19 pandemic, we do not want to face new pandemics, we must stop the climate crisis.
In a study published in January 2020, it is written in black and white about the further health risks associated with melting ice. We must take them into account in the coming years. The article presents the results of a study conducted since 2015 by a team of American scientists: they analyzed the microbial content of ice cores in the northwest of the Tibetan plateau.
To obtain two samples, the researchers perforated the ice layer to a depth of 50 meters. Within the obtained specimens, 33 groups of viruses were identified by microbiological analysis, of which 28 were unknown viruses of ancient origin. The study of ice cores made it possible to study the history of the climate of this region over the past 15 thousand years. The risk is that as a result of climate change, which has the greatest impact on the poles, the melting of the ice will release the bacteria that have been hiding in them all this time.
A climatic catastrophe causing the retreat and shrinkage of large Himalayan glaciers is capable of releasing ancient unknowns and, therefore, potentially dangerous viruses into the atmosphere. Biologist Jean-Michel Claverie, professor emeritus of genomics and bioinformatics at the French University of Aix-Marseille, emphasizes that the latter risk stems from the fact that the northernmost regions of the planet, previously uninhabited, are increasingly of interest due to melting. in the field of oil and rare earth elements, and as a result of drilling, not only minerals can come to the surface, but also diseases lurking in the depths.
We do not know what might happen if we are faced with pathogens that have existed for centuries underground, but the risks should not be underestimated. A person who has not interacted with these viruses and bacteria for a long time no longer has the necessary antibodies to resist them. In addition, some of these pathologies did not spread during the existence of modern medicine, which means that it does not have reliable research on the basis of which the production of drugs and vaccines can be started.
Permafrost is a layer of ice-covered soil consisting of plant biomass formed over time. It is an ideal environment for the preservation of bacteria and viruses due to ice, darkness and lack of oxygen. They can stay there for millions of years, explains Claverie, emphasizing that this may be the reason for the global epidemics of the past. We are talking about pathogens that can get into the air and come into contact with aquifers: among them smallpox, anthrax and even bubonic plague, as well as unknown diseases.
If under normal conditions every summer a layer of ice about 50 centimeters thick melts in the permafrost, which is restored in winter, then with global warming, the ice cover is constantly decreasing: in the Arctic, about 13% of the ice disappears every ten years.
Today, there is a particular risk of a smallpox virus awakening, causing an infectious disease that affects the surface of the skin, mucous membranes of the mouth and larynx. The mortality rate from it is 30-35%, and characteristic scars remain on the face and body of people who survived it. In the region of the Kolyma River in northeastern Siberia, there are ancient burials of victims of the smallpox epidemic that struck the region in the 1890s and in some villages and villages that destroyed up to 40% of the population. Today, the ghost of those years appears on the dams of the river as a result of melting and destruction. Researchers have found fragments of virus DNA in corpses with traces of smallpox, buried in permafrost in the 18th-19th centuries.
On the surface, the researchers also found the Spanish flu virus – the most devastating epidemic in modern history, which killed tens of millions of people around the world between 1918 and 1920. Studying it can reveal valuable information, not only historical, but also medical, and form the basis for action regarding future influenza.
In addition to the virus, spore-bearing bacteria, such as those that cause tetanus and botulism, can survive (and strike again) for thousands of years. In a 2005 study, a team of American scientists was able to resurrect bacteria that had remained in the bowels of a frozen lake in Alaska for almost 30 thousand years. Microbes such as Carnobacterium pleistocene have existed in ice since the Pleistocene and appear to have returned to life unharmed after prolonged hibernation. In 2007, scientists resurrected a bacterium that had remained under the surface of a glacier in Antarctica for 8 million years.
While the Spanish flu virus and bacteria that disappeared in prehistoric times are able to reactivate after prolonged sleep, remaining in the laboratories of research centers, pathogens are beneficial by helping to gain more information about these diseases and other pathologies associated with them. The problem arises when, as a result of thawing permafrost, they pollute water, infect animals and spread. This is not a distant risk: this already happened in the summer of 2016, when a hotbed of anthrax arose in northern Siberia. Dozens of people became infected, one teenager and a thousand deer died.
Anthrax is a bacterial infection that can provoke endemic foci among herbivores, as it happens periodically, and can be transmitted to humans through direct contact, as well as through the use of contaminated products or as a result of the penetration of bacterial spores during respiration. The proportion of deaths in the most common dermatological form is 20%. Up to 75% – with gastrointestinal. At the same time, anthrax is also characterized by a rather rapid course.
The vaccine is available, but due to serious side effects, it is used exclusively in the area of greatest risk. In the period from 1897 to 1925 alone, in the Arctic part of Russia, one and a half million deer died due to anthrax – perhaps they just became infected with bacteria that had been preserved in the environment for about 70 years and mainly in permafrost. The fact is that skeletons often remain on the surface of the earth, covered only with layers of icy snow, and it is difficult to dig deeper burials in the frozen ground of this region. The return of anthrax In 2016, it is associated with a heat wave that melted the surface layer of ice, under which lay the remains of deer that died from this disease decades ago. As soon as the skeletons that kept traces of infection appeared on the surface, the bacteria entered the soil and water and began to infect animals again.
Another cause for concern is information revealed in a study by Canadian scientists in 2016. The Canadians have discovered bacteria such as Paenibacillus that have survived in an underground cave in New Mexico for 4 million years and are highly resistant to drugs and antibiotics. This discovery shed light on the existence of a whole class of pathogenic agents with “natural” resistance to antibiotics, not due to the drug abuse characteristic of recent years.
The effects of melting ice – from the disappearance of entire cities due to coastal erosion due to rising sea levels, from dramatic climate change to the food webs – are numerous, and the return of diseases that we thought long gone into oblivion should be our greatest concern.
In addition to the thousands of casualties and the socio-economic damage of the pandemic, we are also facing difficulties in distributing the coronavirus vaccine. In a matter of years, we may face other epidemics that we do not have the right tools to respond to. Or we must seriously try to stop the melting of ice, deforestation and reduce the volume of polluting emissions.
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