Zombie anthrax from a reindeer that has been dead for 75 years appears to have resurfaced after a recent heatwave hit Siberia, infecting 13 Yamal nomads and killing 1,500 reindeer, Washington Post reports. Governor Dmitry Kolybin of Russia’s Yamalo-Nenets autonomous district declared a state of emergency to manage the crisis, with dozens of indigenous Nenet herders and their animals under quarantine.

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Anthrax has long posed significant problems for public health and veterinary services in Russia, according to a study published in 1999. “At the beginning of the century, 40–60 thousand cases of this infection were annually reported in the country in agricultural animals and about 10–20 thousand cases in people where each fourth (25%) was dying.”

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The last serious anthrax outbreak occurred in 1941, according to NBC News, and the latest outbreak may not be the last. As temperatures climb in the arctic region, this year at least ten degrees Fahrenheit higher than usual, long-dormant anthrax spores that thrive in balmier weather are resurrected as active bacteria.

This is of particular concern given swaths of dead reindeer that could unleash more anthrax outbreaks as temperatures continue to rise. Washington Post reports: “In 2011, two researchers from the Russian Academy of Sciences writing in the journal Global Health Action assessed the conditions required for anthrax to appear in Yakutia, a region to the east of Yamal that contains 200 burial grounds of cattle that died from the disease.”

They estimated that anthrax can remain in the permafrost for 105 years – and the deeper the spores are buried, the longer they live. They said, “As a consequence of permafrost melting, the vectors of deadly infections of the 18th and 19th centuries may come back, especially near the cemeteries where the victims of these infections were buried.”

Via Washington Post

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