Under normal conditions, anthrax is a rare disease – and almost unheard of in colder, northern climates. However, an unusual heat wave in Siberia’s Arctic Yamal Peninsula region last summer resulted in an outbreak that claimed the life of a 12-year-old boy and sent twenty more to the hospital for treatment. It was the first such outbreak in over 75 years – and scientists are gravely concerned that it is a harbinger of things to come.
Currently, temperatures in the Arctic are rising three times faster than the rest of the planet. This is not only threatening wildlife, it is also exposing ancient permafrost layers that have not seen the light of day in millions of years. Hiding in those layers may be microbes, bacteria, and viruses that have been locked away since the first hominids migrated out of Africa almost two million years ago.
This is the fear of French biologist Jean-Michel Claverie, who works at Aix-Marseille University. In a recent interview with the BBC, he said,