Anthrax #OnThisDay

On 1st of August 2016 there was reported an outbreak of anthrax in Siberia. One person died directly as a result and 2,300 reindeer were killed.

Anthrax is an infection caused by the bacterium Bacillus anthracis. It can occur in four forms: skin, lungs, intestinal and injection.

Anthrax essentially ceased to be regarded as a disease of major health or economic importance after the enormous successes of Max Sterne’s veterinary vaccine developed in the 1930s….The 1980s saw a resurgence of interest in the disease, partly stimulated by a renewed focus on Bacillus anthracis, the agent of anthrax, as a potential agent for a biological weapon, after the largest reported outbreak of human inhalational anthrax that took place in 1979 in the city then called Sverdlovsk (now Ekaterinburg) in the former Soviet Union, and partly because of increasing recognition that anthrax had by no means “gone away” as a naturally occurring disease in animals and humans in many countries

Anthrax in humans and animals – WHO

You can read more about the 1979 outbreak in Sverdlovsk here: Anthrax The Investigation of a Deadly Outbreak By JEANNE GUILLEMIN University of California Press

Using anthrax as a biological weapon was also done by many countries including the UK and the USA experimenting on Gruinard Island about halfway between Gairloch and Ullapool, in 1942.

The anthrax strain chosen was a highly virulent type called “Vollum 14578”, named after R. L. Vollum, Professor of Bacteriology at the University of Oxford, who supplied it. Eighty sheep were taken to the island and bombs filled with anthrax spores were exploded close to where selected groups were tethered. The sheep became infected with anthrax and began to die within days of exposure.


And yes they filmed it: Gruinard Island X-Base Anthrax Trials 1942-43

Decades later it was announced that the island had been decontaminated- 24th April 1990. It had taken 280 tonnes of formaldehyde solution diluted in sea water sprayed over all 196 hectares of the island and removing the worst contaminated topsoil. Sheep were again put on the island to see if they would survive.

Many countries have had a go at experimenting with anthrax as a biological weapon.

The Siberian outbreak in 2016 has been linked to the thawing of permafrost. Anthrax spores can lie dormant in the ground for many years – as we have seen from the experiments conducted by the UK on the Scottish island – in the Arctic regions the spores have been preserved in the frozen ground. That ground is thawing – because we have a climate emergency.

What we do know is that if the Arctic continues to warm as quickly as climatologists are predicting, an estimated 2.5 million square miles of permafrost — 40 percent of the world’s total — could disappear by the end of the century, with enormous consequences. The most alarming is expected to be the release of huge stores of greenhouse gases, including methane, carbon dioxide, and nitrous oxide that have remained locked in the permafrost for ages. Pathogens will also be released.

How melting permafrost is beginning to transform the Arctic

You can read more here: Permafrost dynamics and the risk of anthrax transmission: a modelling study

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