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Kieran Cooke – Anthrax strikes in rapidly thawing Arctic

Record high temperatures in Arctic Russia are believed to be one of the main factors behind the emergence of the deadly anthrax disease in northwestern Siberia.

LONDON, 15 August, 2016 – A full-scale medical emergency has broken out in the Yamal region of Siberia, with troops from the Russian army’s special biological warfare unit spearheading efforts to contain an outbreak of anthrax.

A 12-year-old boy died after consuming infected venison, other people are believed to have died or become infected with the disease, and thousands of reindeer suspected of carrying it have been killed and incinerated.

One of the main reasons cited for the outbreak of anthrax – one of the world’s most deadly pathogens – is an unprecedented heatwave experienced in the north Siberia region in recent weeks. Temperatures have been between 25°C and 35°C, which is way above the average for the time of year.

Anthrax, an infection caused by the bacterium Bacillum anthracis, can occur naturally in certain soils, with infection usually spread by grazing animals. It has also been developed for use in chemical warfare.