Climate Change Increases Risk of Viral Outbreaks

Arctic Ocean North West Passage

Scientists alert that ancient bacteria, viruses and fungi are likely to be released with the increasing rates of ice melting caused by global warming. This can expose humans to long-forgotten diseases.

As Professor John Priscu from Montana State University comments, what is put in the ice now, could emerge million years later. It creates a perfect environment for microorganisms to remain alive.

The Arctic and the Arctic ice have been a subject of scientific interest for decades. One of the most significant findings came in 2009 when a team of researchers identifies almost 10,000 different species of viruses, many that have not been discovered before, inhabiting the frozen freshwater lakes of Antarctica.

Some scientists are certain that these microorganisms would have appeared sooner or later, even without global warming. This is because ice melts periodically, and viruses can be transferred by migrating birds. A hypothesis relates the outbreak of influenza virus to have started this way.

Dany Shoham from Israel’s Bar-Ilan University claims that such phenomenon is very possible to happen on regular basis. For example, a virus that has appeared originally in 1930s, has reappeared in the 1960s and again in 2006 when a Siberian lake melted.

Shoham adds that while some viruses might not survive after freezing, others are adaptable and have the properties to survive and be transferred between animals and humans.

Naturally, viruses do not appear only from melting ice, but it is certain that warming climates will also influence the range of bacterial carriers, such as insects. According to Drew Harvell from Conell University, the danger is hidden in the facts that on one hand the hosts become more stressed and vulnerable, and on the other hand the viruses are growing faster. 


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