Four children among those in intensive care, as locals undergo mass evacuation and quarantining, while reindeer herd decimated.
First anthrax outbreak since 1941. Picture: Vesti Yamal
Up to 1,200 deer have been lost in the Yamalsky district in Yamalo-Nenets autonomous region, as urgent action is underway to inoculate 'at risk' nomads including children. A total of nine have been hospitalised, including four children, with two of those in intensive care suspected of suffering from dangerous anthrax.
It is the first outbreak of deadly infection anthrax in 75 years, and a strict quarantine regime was put in place by governor Dmitry Kobylkin, including mass evacuation of herders most at risk, and their families.
Initially it was thought a heat wave in the tundra region, which straddles the Arctic Circle, was responsible for sudden reindeer deaths.
Now it is feared anthrax has played a major part in the deaths.
People evacuated from the area. Pictures: Vesti Yamal
Deep concern focuses on nomadic herders and their families in the Tarko-Sale Faktoria camp, above the Arctic Circle and close to the Yaro To lake, some 340 kilometres north-east of regional capital Salekhard.
We are indebted to Prof Florian Stammler, Arctic Centre, Lapland, Rovaniemi, Finland - who knows the area well - for clarifying initial confusion over the location of the outbreak.
'There is a doctor near the breeders - there are 63 of them - who monitors their health condition,' said a statement from the governor's office. 'As a preventive measure all the nomads from the area will be flown to another part of the tundra for preventive inoculation.
'A helicopter has already been sent to their camp.'
Gazprom Dobycha Nadym agreed to provide the helicopter - and children were to be placed in a a boarding school in Yar-Sale temporarily.
Mass vaccination of 'all nomads of Yamal district' has not been ruled out. Some 1,200 reindeer have been lost so far but it is unclear how many of these to anthrax, and how many to heatstroke following unusually hot weather with temperatures of 30C or more.
Young reindeer are being culled due to the demise of their mothers, leaving them unable to feed.
'Based on a comprehensive analysis, experts confirmed that the mortality of the reindeer is caused not only by heatstroke [the animals are unaccustomed to such high temperatures] but also by a sickness - anthrax,' said the report.
The herders will have to avoid this area for a few decades. Pictures: Vesti Yamal
The contamination of a disease that can remain infectious for more than a century could have been from a herd uncovering the burial place of an infected reindeer from the past.
'There are no cattle mortuaries in the area but considering the viability of the infectious agent of anthrax - 100 years and more - and its resistance to the change of temperatures professionals assume that animals looking for food came across the site of an animal that died of anthrax and then infected each other. Therefore the locality - a reindeer path - will be fenced off.'
Measures are now being taken for the disposal of the dead animals. Healthy animals from the affected herd will undergo additional vaccination.
Money for clearing the area will be assigned from budget reserves of the Yamalo Nenets autonomous district.
Every dead animal will be burnt separately in the location where it died.
However, Vyacheslav Khritin, head of Salekhard Vet Centre, said; 'We will have to dispose the calves born this year that are left without mothers. All the corpses that died over some four or five kilometres, we'll gather them and will build a large cattle cemetery.'
A reliable cemetery will be built with special equipment that will only reach the location only in a few days. And herders will avoid the area for a few decades.
They won't be burnt all together not to spread the disease. Samples of infected animals were sent to additional analysis to Moscow.
Anthrax is an infection caused by the bacterium Bacillus anthracis. Pictures: Vesti Yamal
A spokesman for the governor said: 'This case won't affect exports or the quality of meat.'
Most exports go to Germany, Sweden and Finland. This case is local, it is about one one centre - Yaroto lake in Yamalsky district.
'No other centres (of anthrax infection) have been discovered.
'Control and safety measures have been restricted across the whole region. There is no single chance that infected venison will make it to slaughter complex: all of them, each and every patch is thoroughly checked in line with the highest standards.
'We're interested in exporting high-quality venison just like it has always been. Our long-term history with foreign partners says that we are trusted and our reputation is precious. We're hoping that this situation will not impact on attitudes towards Yamal products.'
Anthrax is an infection caused by the bacterium Bacillus anthracis. Among its forms are inhalation, which leads to fever, chest pain, and shortness of breath. The intestinal form presents with nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or abdominal pain.
Until the 20th century, it killed hundreds of thousands of people and livestock each year.
Anthrax has been developed as a lethal weapon in the past.
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