How Global Warming Is Awakening Deadly Diseases

Sure climate change is bad but at least it’snot causing more cases of flesh eating bacteria or something… no you’re kidding, seriously? Hey global citizens, Julian here for DNews. We talk about climate change a lot here, probablybecause it’s a massive looming problem that will affect the globe in profound ways. You already know most of them by heart I’msure: melting ice caps, rising sea levels, changing rainfall patterns that lead to droughtsand food shortages. All bad stuff that’s in the not too distantfuture. But what if I told you that climate changeis causing problems already, and some of them are truly unexpected? Take for example a recent anthrax outbreakin Siberia. If you’re like me, you only know anthraxas this white powder that gets mailed to someone and then everyone freaks out because it couldkill you. So you may be wondering what madman is mailinga bioweapon to people in one of the most remote places in the world. But in reality, the bacterium that causesanthrax infections, Bacillus anthracis, occurs naturally and infects an estimated 2,000 people each year.

Back in the early 20th century, anthrax outbreakswere common in Siberia. Anthrax infections killed over a million reindeer,and they were buried in about 7000 burial grounds by the indigenous Nenets. But since then it’s been quiet, with thelast outbreak in Siberia happening in 1941. Now the same bacteria that caused those outbreakscould be responsible for the 20 Siberians who contracted anthrax in August of 2016,and I do mean the exact same bacteria. The current hypothesis is after the infectedreindeer were buried, the bacteria were essentially refrigerated by the permafrost heaped on topof them. Now that temperatures are climbing upward,that frozen soil is starting to thaw, unleashing spores across the tundra and infecting reindeerand people anew. If rising temperatures are the culprit, thenthe Nenets can expect anthrax outbreaks every summer. There could be other dormant bacteria up therewaiting to be reawakened too, like bubonic plague, or a disease that hasn’t occurrednaturally since 1977, smallpox. Climate change might be doing more than revivefrozen microbes north of the Arctic circle; it could be helping microbes closer to theequator too, like Vibrio vulnificus.

That little guy is also known as a flesh-eatingbacteria, and it does well in warm and brackish waters. Guess what climate change causes more of? Warm and brackish waters. Global incidents of V. vulnificus have beensteadily rising for the last 4 decades. Now there are about 80,000 cases in the USeach year. Before you shout that correlation does notnecessarily equal causation and bring a tear of joy to my eye like a proud parent, a studyin June published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that warmersurface ocean temperatures are causing blooms of the bacteria and are associated with theincreased incidence of infection in Northern Europe and the US Atlantic coast. Most of the infections come from eating contaminatedseafood raw and in those cases the cholera-like symptoms like diarrhea, cramping, and feverusually pass after 3 days. But Vibrio can also find it’s way into opencuts, causing lesions that grow rapidly. 20% of the time these infections are fatal. Climate change isn’t some far-off problemwith hypothetical impacts that will be felt 50 years from now.

It’s creating problems already, and someof these problems come out of left field, like these revived and revitalized bacteria. Don’t worry though, because the hotter temperaturescan kill bacteria too! Except that’s happening in deserts, wherethe bacteria helps keep the soil from eroding. Seriously climate change, can you just chillout? Another unexpected side effect of climatechange? A refugee crisis. Seeker Stories has more info on that here. And climate change might be happening fasterthan we expected. Trace has more info on that, here. Now have you noticed the changing temperaturesaffecting your life in ways you didn’t expect? Like I for one basically can’t play PC gamesanymore without my room turning into a sauna. Let us know in the comments, subscribe formore and I will see you next time on DNews.