Zombie anthrax back thanks to rising temperatures

Zombie anthrax back thanks to rising temperatures

A deadly anthrax outbreak in the far north of Russia has been blamed on a thawed-out reindeer carcass.

It's already killed a 12-year-old boy in the town of Salekhard, and another 71 people have been hospitalised.

Yamal-Nenets Governor Dmitry Kobylkin says the disease has lain dormant in the region for 75 years.

"We literally fought for the life of each person, but the infection showed its cunning."

Unusually high temperatures and a long-dead reindeer are thought to have kickstarted the outbreak.

Several decades ago, a reindeer corpse infected with anthrax froze. The spores remained dormant until the thaw came earlier this year.

Living reindeer ate the infected meat, and the melted water ran into the ground.

The disease then jumped from the reindeer to people, local nomadic herders, when the ill animals were killed and eaten or the infected groundwater was drunk.

Nearly 2400 reindeer have died in the area, although experts told the Moscow Times many of them will have died from the heat and other diseases.

Permafrost in the region contains hundreds of thousands of frozen reindeer corpses, a number of which could be infected with anthrax according to a study published in the Global Health Action journal in 2011.

"As a consequence of permafrost melting, the vectors of deadly infections of the 18th and 19th centuries may come back, especially near the cemeteries where the victims of these infections were buried," the study warned.

"Public health authorities should be permanently on the alert with regard to anthrax."

Experts say frozen anthrax spores could remain alive for around a century, just waiting for temperatures to warm again before becoming active once more.

Military specialists are among those now fighting against the disease in the Yamal-Nenets region, with a focus on finding and destroying other infected reindeer corpses.