Climate Change Could Unleash Deadly Diseases Buried under Ice
- April, 18, 2020 - 12:36
- Science news
TEHRAN (Tasnim) – As the world battles coronavirus scientists have warned climate change could unleash viruses thought long gone as permafrost thaws and the seas rise.
The world has paused as coronavirus forces huge sections of the globe into lockdown in a bid to slow the spread of the deadly COVID-19 bug.
Never، since the advent of antibiotics in the middle of the 20th century، especially the discovery of penicillin by Alexander Fleming، has humanity been brought so completely to its knees by a virus، Mirror reported.
But since COVID-19 emerged on December 31 the deadly virus has killed almost 150،000 people with more than two million cases diagnosed across the world in the 210 countries currently infected.
Many nations have introduced lockdowns in a bid to slow the spread of the virus with the UK in its fourth week of being told to stay at home and protect the NHS.
Coronavirus is believed to have originated in bats in China before spreading around the world like wildfire.
The first cases were reported in Wuhan on New Year's Eve، although experts believe it could have come from the sub-tropical regions of China، with several smaller outbreaks that quickly fizzled out.
However، when it reached the now closed wildlife markets in the Chinese city the virus finally found a way to embed in a human host and begin its horrific march across the globe.
COVID-19 is a new strain of coronavirus، which means، as yet، there is no cure or vaccine - although scientists are working around the clock to create one.
As viruses evolve، so does humanity's ability to treat and control them - but there are now fears bacteria thought to have been eradicated from the globe could be making a come back due to climate change.
As the earth's temperature rises، huge areas of frozen permafrost soil is starting to melt. In some cases this land has been frozen solid for thousands of years.
Experts are concerned this now thawing soil could contain bacteria and viruses which have lain dormant for thousands of years.
Once awoken، these viruses could prove deadly. Four years ago in one of the most remote places on earth - Siberia - a 12-year-old boy died from anthrax.
He was not the only one infected with a further 20 people needing hospital treatment because of the deadly infection.
But where did a disease that has long stopped being a threat emerge from? There are suspicions that a reindeer had been killed by anthrax and frozen under the ice for 75 years - until a summer heatwave.
This melted the permafrost covering its corpse and the anthrax was unleashed. The anthrax is believed to have seeped into the thawed soil before finding its way into the water supply and then the human food chain.
More than a million reindeer were killed by anthrax in the early 1900s and there are thousands of sites where their bodies lie buried in ice.
Scientists fear this could just be the beginning of deadly viruses، thought long dead، re-emerging with devastating impact.
As the permafrost has been frozen for hundreds، if not thousands of years، it becomes the perfect place for bacteria to survive.
There could be many horrors now starting to wake up beneath the earth's frozen soil، including the Spanish flu that killed up to 50million people between 1918 and 1920، the bubonic plague and smallpox.
Mass graves in Alaska، frozen since the deadly outbreak of Spanish flu، have revealed DNA fragments of the disease.
And there are concerns there are many burial sites for the victims of smallpox and the bubonic plague in Russia.
However، there is some good news - not all viruses can survive being frozen in time for long periods of time. The ones most likely to 'wake up' are those which come from spores.
Chillingly، these include some of the deadliest diseases humanity has ever known، including anthrax and botulism، which can lead to paralysis and death.
And as soon as they are revived، the viruses are infectious immediately.
The thawing of the permafrost isn't the only threat when it comes to unleashing these deadly diseases on humanity once more.
As the Arctic ice melts and the seas rise، huge areas of land previiously unaccessible by boat can now be reached. While this offers new mining sites and reserves of fuel، it could also prove deadly.
If permafrost، which has remained untouched since ancient times، is drilled into a raft of deadly bacteria could be freed.
One of the most fearsome is known as a giant virus، which is so huge it can be seen with a normal microscope and is almost impossible to destroy.
Even diseases that killed huge numbers of Neanderthal man could be unleashed.
Evolutionary biologist at Aix-Marseille University in France Jean-Michel Claverie told the BBC : "The possibility that we could catch a virus from a long-extinct Neanderthal suggests that the idea that a virus could be 'eradicated' from the planet is wrong، and gives us a false sense of security.
"This is why stocks of vaccine should be kept، just in case."
Permafrost is not the only place these deadly bacteria are lying dormant - 50،000 year old mircrobes were found inside crysals in a mine in Mexico by NASA researchers in 2017.
As soon as they were released from their crystal prison the microbes started multiplying instantly.
This is not the only horrifying discovering in Mexico - 1،000 feet underground، unseen for more than four million years bacteria was found trapped.
The cave is so remote it takes water from the surface 10،000 years to reach inside. Worst of all the bacteria has so far proved totally resistant to eight types of antiobiotic.
Thankfully، the bacteria does not seem to be harmful to humans but there are fears it could mutate with other، dangerous، strains to provide them with a way of being unaffected by human treatments.
Scientists are unable to say how likely it is an ancient virus could infect humans but they have warned "if the pathogen hasn't been in contact with humans for a long time، then our immune system would not be prepared. So yes، that could be dangerous."