Magazine article USA TODAY

Can Zombie Pathogens Affect World Health?

Magazine article USA TODAY

Can Zombie Pathogens Affect World Health?

Article excerpt

Reports of dangerous microbes being released from thawing permafrost are not as scary as some scientists have reported, but it is a situation that should be studied, maintains Elizabeth Greguske, assistant professor of biology at Saint Anselm College, Manchester, N.H.

As was reported in Scientific American, dozens of people and thousands of reindeer in Siberia were infected by or died from anthrax in 2017--the region's first outbreak in 75 years--potentially as a result of thawing disease pathogens.

"I wouldn't lose sleep over the microbes that are now thawing from the permafrost," says Greguske. 'To be a real threat, the pathogens need to survive the long freeze and come in contact with a human. Since most permafrost areas are sparsely populated, the overall risk is quite low." However, "anytime a new strain of a virus or bacteria emerges from mutation, animal reservoirs, or permafrost, humans could be infected.

"To cause a global pandemic, the pathogen would need several characteristics: to be easily transmitted such as by coughing or sneezing; have no available treatment or cure; be a virus as antibiotics are ineffective against viruses; and be unique from other current viral pathogens so our immune systems would not recognize it. …

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