A 12-year-old boy has died in Siberia, along with 2,300 reindeer, all because of a long-dormant strain of anthrax that was released by a sudden change in climate. The outbreak is one of the strangest, and maybe the scariest, reminders of the unknown consequences of climate change as the world plows ahead towards even hotter temperatures.
According to the Guardian, officials have set up a quarantine near the town of Salekhard in the Arctic Circle to prevent the spread of the deadly bacteria. The 12-year-old’s grandmother also died from anthrax according to LifeNews, and 72 nomadic herders, including 41 children, have been hospitalized, and reindeer have died in mass. The doctors have confirmed that at least five adults and two other children have the disease.
Anthrax infections appear around the world in very small numbers every year. One of the disease’s many names is Siberian plague. But what makes this outbreak disturbing to many is not only the number of infections but the indirect cause – climate change.
Much of the world has been undergoing record hot temperatures, and Siberia has been especially hard-hit. The Siberian Times, which has been covering the anthrax outbreak since at least July, reported that the temperature has hovered around 35 degrees C (~95 degrees F) for about a month. The temperature in Russia as a whole has risen 0.43 degrees C in the past 10 years.
As a result of the climate change, permafrost is thawing, along with frozen bodies. The anthrax bacteria can lie dormant in a freeze for hundreds of years, and once bodies from the last outbreak in 1941 thawed, it started spreading all over again.
Governor Dmitry Kobylkin of Yamal in Siberia talked about the seriousness of the disease in an interview with Interfax.
“We literally fought for the life of each person, but the infection showed its cunning. It returned after 75 years and took the life of a child.”
The government has evacuated 63 people from the quarantine zone.
Nomads in the area often bury their dead in shallow graves, since permafrost is so difficult to penetrate. The Nenets tribe traditionally puts the deceased in a wooden casket above the ground, making the potential for danger even greater as climate change continues.
It’s also possible that the anthrax got into the water supply. The 12-year-old who died suffered from intestinal anthrax, which causes vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain and fever. As the Yamal region deals with its local crisis, the U.S. will face a difficult choice on climate change policy in the near future.
In its party platform, the Democratic party has promised bold action on climate change after the election.
“We are committed to a national mobilization, and to leading a global effort to mobilize nations to address this threat on a scale not seen since World War II. In the first 100 days of the next administration, the President will convene a summit of the world’s best engineers, climate scientists, policy experts, activists, and indigenous communities to chart a course to solve the climate crisis.”
The party has committed to stopping drilling in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans and ensuring the country runs on clean energy by 2050.
The Republican platform, on the other hand, rejects the “agendas” of the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreements. Donald Trump has referred to climate change as a hoax and a con-job.
Meanwhile, Siberia is dealing with more than just anthrax as climate change takes hold, including random explosions. Researchers have found three mysterious, large sinkholes in the region according to the Guardian, the popular theory is that as the permafrost warms, pockets of gas form and explode underground.
[Photo by Alexander Aksakov/Getty Images]