The worst awaits us: a global epidemic hiding in ‘melting ice’


A prominent scientist has warned that rotting corpses and animal carcasses with fatal diseases could cause the next global pandemic.

And deadly diseases such as anthrax, tetanus and smallpox can be preserved in Arctic ice sheets for thousands or even millions of years, said microbiologist from Ohio State University, Anirban Mahapatra.

Historically, this has not posed a major threat to humanity, but with ice sheets melting and glaciers receding at a rapid pace, diseases within them can infect living creatures and cause widespread disease outbreaks.

Dr. Mahapatra, a biologist at the American Research Association, told the Daily Star: “There are viruses that can survive tens, hundreds, thousands, and theoretically, even millions of years in the ice. And what happens is that we find a lot of well-preserved animals, like mammoths. , revealed by melting ice. And if these animals are infected with viruses and bacteria, they can pass that on to other animals and humans.”

It seems that the Arctic warming, twice as fast as the rest of the world, a process known as polar amplification, cannot help, and worse still, toxic permafrost can also carry epidemics to which most people have not been exposed for many years. less immunity to it.

One example is smallpox, which is likely to be found in corpses throughout the world’s glaciers. And if the outbreak leads to widespread spread in nearby humans, this could spread quickly and infect millions.

Mahapatra continued, “There is a possibility of viruses that we no longer live with will spread. Especially if it was human corpses that came out, and they had smallpox, for example. We are not routinely vaccinated against smallpox, so there may be a problem if these viruses are viable.”
Mahapatra cited a new study by Ohio State University on the range of diseases found on the Tibetan Plateau, where some of the world’s oldest ice has been frozen for tens of thousands of years.

“What they have discovered is a number of viruses, including 28, from 15,000-year-old ice, which have never been seen before,” Mahapatra said. “If what’s in the ice is a respiratory infection, like COVID-19, then it can cause a major outbreak,” Dr Mahapatra noted.

Because of the nature of global travel even during a pandemic, he said, remote villages can spawn true global epidemics. Population centers that are not particularly close to major ice sources are therefore unlikely to be avoided. “There are melting glaciers in different parts of the world, the Andes, the Himalayas, parts of the Alps, so this is not just concentrated in the Arctic,” he added.

Among the many lessons we must learn from the current pandemic is awareness of the severity of low-probability events that must be kept in our minds, according to Mahapatra.

Unsurprisingly, the scientist explained that there is only one obvious way to avoid such an outcome, noting that “the biggest problem is climate change, which will not end. We have to save Arctic ice and permafrost. We still have a chance to do that.”


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