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Two more outbreaks of anthrax hit northern Siberia due to thawing permafrost

By The Siberian Times reporter
31 August 2016

In each case the deadly decades-old 'zombie' disease originated in contaminated soil and was awakened by hot Arctic summer weather.

A strong new warning from scientists suggests that there is a 'dangerous' risk of infection across this entire permafrost area. Picture: Gazprom

The Yamalo-Nenets region has suffered not one but three separate outbreaks of lethal anthrax since 7 July, with bloodsucking insects - especially gadflies and mosquitoes  - playing a key role in the spread, we can confirm. 

A strong new warning from scientists suggests that there is a 'dangerous' risk of infection across this entire permafrost area.

There was worldwide coverage last month when Russian bio- and chemical-warfare troops were deployed to deal with the first case of the infection since 1941.

Now it is clear that there were a total of two outbreaks on the Yamal peninsula, and a third east of the Gulf of Ob.

Previously, only one focal point was acknowledged, around Lake Yarato.

Map

Now it is clear that there were a total of two outbreaks on the Yamal peninsula, and a third east of the Gulf of Ob. Picture: The Siberian Times

Now scientists say that the epicentre of this initial outbreak was in a privately-owned herd of reindeer at nearby Lake Pisyoto on 7 July, while a second outbreak occurred some 100 kilometres or 62 miles southeast at Novy Port, on the Gulf of Ob.

The last, where the infection was detected on 3 August, was at Pyakyakhinskaya in Tazovsky district, a distance of some 250 km or 155 miles east of the original infection.

Our map shows the three locations. 

Officials say that the summer anthrax infections led to one fatality, a 12 year old boy, along with the death of 2,349 reindeer and at least four dogs. 

Deer


Deer

The soil originally became infected because of numerous anthrax outbreaks, specifically in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Pictures: Vladimir Adayev

Crucially, the study also established that the infection started in thawed, contaminated soil, rather than emanating directly from decades-old poisoned reindeer carcasses or even human remains in graveyards, as was earlier believed.

This, in turn, means that controlling new outbreaks in a warming climate  is virtually impossible, other than by mass vaccinations of people and animals. 

'Due to the wide spread of anthrax in the past, almost the entire territory of Yamal district is dangerous in terms of anthrax,' said a report from  the All-Russian Research Institute of Veterinary Virology and Microbiology, part of the Russian Agricultural Academy.

The soil originally became infected because of numerous anthrax outbreaks, specifically in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Gadfly


Mosquitos

Researchers established that especially around the initial outbreak bloodsucking insects were active in transmitting the disease from animal to animal over a distance of up to 20 km (12 miles). Pictures: Sergey Markov, Vkontakte 

'The causative agent of anthrax fell into the soil with the secretions of sick (livestock) and the corpses of dead animals,' stated the report. 

Abnormally high temperatures in the Arctic this summer led to the thawing. 

'The spread of the disease among reindeer was caused by old soil disease spots, which melted as a result of abnormal heat,' the agency said in a report released on Wednesday.

There had been no outbreak of anthrax in Yamal since 1941 before this summer's outbreak. 

Vaccination


Vaccination

Controlling new outbreaks in a warming climate is virtually impossible, other than by mass vaccinations of people and animals. Pictures: Vesti.Yamal

Dr Oleg Selyaninov, leading researcher at the All-Russian Research Institute of Veterinary Virology and Microbiology, told us: 'We see at least three different foci - the first near the Lake Pisyoto, next near Novy Port settlement, and the third in Tazovsky district. 

'The animals that contracted the disease near Pisyoto could not get to Novy Port, and then to Tazovsky district. There is no migration between these areas and these foci were activated almost simultaneously.'

Researchers established that especially around the initial outbreak bloodsucking insects were active in transmitting the disease from animal to animal over a distance of up to 20 km (12 miles).

'The insects - and we are mostly speaking about gadflies - bite infected animals and transmit anthrax spores to another animal. 

Medical examination of kids

Deputy Prime Minister Olga Golodets has demanded that compulsory vaccinations must be introduced for all groups deemed at risk. Picture: Press Service of Yamalo-Nenetsk Governor's Office

'In some cases it can even be corpse flies which transmit the spores from the carcasses of dead animals. A human can also contract anthrax this way, but this time we had no such cases. The insects spread the disease mostly around the first foci.' 

After the infection on 7 July, over the next few days three animals a day died here, and 15 and 16 July, the number reached 20 per day. Between 17 and 19 July, the herders lost 200 deer and four dogs, yet it is believed that until this point the disease was contained in this area. 

Vaccinations of reindeer, begun in Soviet times, were halted in 2007, but now all animals are to be injected. Six districts of Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Region have 59 known burial sites of animals which died of anthrax in 1941 or during earlier decades.

Burning corpses


Burning corpses


Military operation

The Russian defence ministry deployed biological and chemical warfare troops to destroying the infected carcasses of reindeer in this summer's outbreak. Pictures: Vesti.Yamal, Press Service of Yamalo-Nenetsk Governor's Office

But not only these sites are dangerous, the report makes clear. A total of 97 people, including 50 children, were admitted to local hospitals in the wake of the anthrax outbreak. Two dozen cases of infection in people were confirmed. 

Deputy Prime Minister Olga Golodets has demanded that compulsory vaccinations must be introduced for all groups deemed at risk. 'If people work with animals they must be vaccinated against anthrax,' she said. 'We are dealing now with an outbreak of anthrax [in Yamal] and we have found out that no one was vaccinated in this region.'

She said: 'Professional groups can become a source and transmitters of all infectious diseases that occur in this country.'

Some teachers and tutors working at childcare centres 'are not even vaccinated against chickenpox and measles. This is outrageous. They become infected together with the children and they transmit the disease. The consequences are dramatic. This must not be tolerated.'

Comments (2)

A rapid mass vaccination might seem to be the solution but to do so would involve massive ressources as the region is rather big - and mostly empty. Maybe a temporary quarantined area would be as well a suitable solution (including cattle / reindeer / ...). I'm sure the experts will handle this problem well.
Dominik, Munich
01/09/2016 17:04
4
0
It is a very serious problem and the only cure seems indeed a rapid MASS VACCINATION of humans and animals. also perhaps in prudence in the use of soil and subsoil of these frozen regions. But the old epidemics also show that men were able to overcome and survive in these regions despite these difficulties.
C'est un combat-
Jocelyne, FRANCE
01/09/2016 01:04
7
0
1

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