Dunvegan Thought Spot


In the research The Dunvegan Group conducts to support our CCR™ (Customer Care & Retention™) programs, we discover articles, blog posts and videos which, although not directly related to our work, are thought provoking or concern matters you may want to think about.  ‘Thought Spot’ covers a broad range of subjects.

The posts in ‘Thought Spot’ are selected by Olev Wain, Ph.D., VP of Research at The Dunvegan Group. 

We welcome your feedback!


Old Diseases Are Emerging from The Arctic

Temperatures in the Arctic Circle are rising rapidly.

In the summer months, the permafrost is melting to depths greater than the usual 20 inches.

With the Arctic ice cap in retreat, Russia’s northern coast is experiencing an upsurge in economic activity with new mining and drilling operations.

There is concern that infectious agents will be released.

This has already happened.

Writing on bbc.com on May 4 2017, Jasmin Fox-Kelly observed:

Climate change is melting permafrost soils that have been frozen for thousands of years, and as the soils melt they are releasing ancient viruses and bacteria that, having lain dormant, are springing back to life.

In August 2016, in a remote corner of Siberian tundra called the Yamal Peninsula in the Arctic Circle, a 12-year-old boy died and at least twenty people were hospitalised after being infected by anthrax.

The theory is that, over 75 years ago, a reindeer infected with anthrax died and its frozen carcass became trapped under a layer of frozen soil, known as permafrost. There it stayed until a heatwave in the summer of 2016, when the permafrost thawed.

This exposed the reindeer corpse and released infectious anthrax into nearby water and soil, and then into the food supply. More than 2,000 reindeer grazing nearby became infected, which then led to the small number of human cases.

Drilling and mining activity is also exposing material that has been frozen for thousands of years. Many pathogens have survived in a frozen state and have been shown to be resistant to modern antibiotics.

Should we be worried?

There are two schools of thought (edited).

One argument is that the risk from permafrost pathogens is inherently unknowable, so they should not overtly concern us.

Instead, we should focus on more established threats from climate change. For instance, as the Earth warms northern countries will become more susceptible to outbreaks of "southern" diseases like malaria, cholera and dengue fever, as these pathogens thrive at warmer temperatures.

The alternative perspective is that we should not ignore risks just because we cannot quantify them.

There is now a non-zero probability that pathogenic microbes could be revived, and infect us.

How likely that is, is not known, but it's a possibility. It could be bacteria that are curable with antibiotics, or resistant bacteria, or a virus. If the pathogen hasn't been in contact with humans for a long time, then our immune system would not be prepared.

Your thoughts?

Image courtesy of bodym at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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