Global Warming Could Revive the Extinct Smallpox Virus

magnified variola virus illustrating smallpox virus threat

There’s a new potentially catastrophic result of global warming looming on the horizon: the revival of smallpox. Apart from the concerns related to environmental damage, it now seems global warming has the potential to revive long dead viruses that have been trapped in the permafrost layers of the northern regions of the globe.

Scientists have already begun to take this risk very seriously. They have already begun to try to reanimate ancient viruses unearthed in Siberia. They argue that by reanimating these viruses in a controlled environment, we can gain some valuable insights for the future. They also warn that the increase in global temperatures might lead to the emergence of very old viruses, and humanity is at risk of being caught unprepared.

So far, the thousand-year old viruses that have emerged are not threatening to humans. But recently, the melting of permafrost layer in Siberia has led to the resurfacing a far more recent, and far more dangerous threat.

The eradication of smallpox in 1977 had been one of humanity’s greatest success stories. To give you an idea of the devastating effects of this disease, in 1967 The World Health Organization (WHO) reported 15 million cases of small pox infections worldwide, out of which almost 2 million died. After successful vaccination campaigns all throughout the twentieth century, the disease was declared officially eradicated by the WHO in 1979.

Currently, according to the WHO, there are no known treatments for small pox. The only way to stop the disease is prevention through vaccination. The organization argues that treatments developed for other infections might prove to be effective against smallpox, but since the diseases has been eradicate, no studies have been conducted.

The fact that there’s no other way to treat smallpox other than through early immunization is made even more grave, since more and more people are advocating against early vaccination. Children who have not received the recommended shots might be at risk of contracting these ancient diseases more so than others.

This summer has brought record-breaking heatwaves all throughout the Siberian region. The heat unearthed a number of corpses, buried near a Siberian village. The village had experienced a severe smallpox epidemic in 1890s, and sure enough, the scientist working in the area noticed the telling signs of smallpox on the well-preserved figures of the people buried there.

Fortunately, they reported that did not find any intact viruses, thus they do not pose an immediate threat. However, they argued that the presence of smallpox DNA should be taken as a warning sign. While the sample they took did not contain any threatening viruses, this does not guarantee that there are no intact viruses buried within the permafrost.

As the consequences of global warming are not yet fully understood, health organizations worldwide should remain vigilante. Since many of the viruses encase in the icy soil of the Arctic and Antarctic regions have not been a threat for many years, there’s no telling what their effects may be. Moreover, it is quite likely modern man’s immune system might not be prepared for these threats.

Image Source: Public Domain Image.