Dangerous Pathogens in Deep Freeze


Dave, I started watching a series called Fortitude. You know it? Yeah, that's where people find a woolly mammoth in permafrost and they don't realize that the thawed carcass harbors the eggs of a pathogenic wasp. Yes, and when the eggs hatch, the wasps sting humans, lay eggs in them which then drive the hosts insane. The thing is this is not so far-fetched.

Remember the anthrax outbreak from a thawed reindeer in Siberia a few years ago? I remember. The reindeer had been preserved in permafrost for seventy-five years but climate change melted the ice enough to expose the carcass. This unleashed the bacterium which killed more than two thousand reindeer, sickened many people, and killed a twelve-year-old boy. So, the risk is real. Microbes preserved in ice can be revived.

Scientists recently brought back a virus that had been frozen for thirty thousand years. luckily it doesn't threaten humans. But several years ago, they also revived the nineteen-eighteen Spanish flu from victims buried in an Alaskan village to study it. Scientists extracted lung tissue from some people and took extreme precautions to keep the virus from escaping the lab. The point is that people or animals that died many years ago of the plague or flu are a "banked" source of disease. And our immune system can have no way to recognize and fight them.

Global warming is now reducing permafrost in polar regions exposing us to a public health menace that is potentially thousands of years in the making.

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