If you remember the fear over H1N1, you may have an inkling of what a pandemic could do. If you have any knowledge of science, the fact that scientists brought a 30,000 year old virus back to life probably scares you. While that particular virus isn’t something for us to fear (but watch out amoebas), it isn’t likely to be the only one hidden in the once frozen ground.
Why is it a problem? If it stays where it is, it isn’t a problem. The likelihood of that is somewhere around a zero. People live in the region. Scientists are looking for things to study as the ground melts. All it takes is one sick person on an airplane to make it a global threat. One of the biggest threats is an illness we have no vaccine for. In fact, there is a virus that could quite easily fit this bill; smallpox.
How could that happen? Smallpox was eradicated in the 1970s, right? Yes and no. The human population no longer has live infectious cases, true. However there are two other sources. One, of course, are labs. The other source is victims buried hundreds of years ago in what used to be permafrost. Also, keep in mind that smallpox is one possibility; there could be any number of viruses that we are unaware of and have no immunity to.
But there are vaccines! True, we have vaccines for currently known strains of smallpox. That does not necessitate that the modern vaccines will work on an ancient virus. Scientists term it “smallpox like.” That doesn’t encourage the idea that we could just vaccinate it away again, at least not in a hurry.
Who could be affected? If you have your smallpox vaccine scar from childhood don’t think you’re off the hook. There is some evidence it wouldn’t even prevent lab generated smallpox from killing you. It is certainly unlikely to prevent the threat of an ancient virus. Like I said, it could be a totally new virus.
How would an Arctic virus travel elsewhere? As mentioned, people travel. Scientists write papers and deliver lectures at conventions. This requires travel…usually by airplane. We know by other outbreaks of disease that an airplane is a great breeding ground.
How should we react? There are dos and don’ts here. Do follow news reports. The report of the new virus came in a television news broadcast. Do make sure your regular vaccinations are up to date. They may still protect you. Do practice good hygiene. Many illnesses are caused when we touch something contaminated and then touch our face. Hand washing is a great line of defense.
Don’t panic. It won’t help even should an outbreak occur. Don’t get vaccinated in a knee-jerk reaction. While there is plenty of vaccine, it’s not currently a threat. Don’t demand all permafrost explorations be stopped. All someone has to do is dig a grave and encroach on a previous grave.
There isn’t anything we need to change. The above should be observed no matter what the potential for disaster is. We just need to follow the commonsense suggestions healthcare workers have always advocated and stay aware of the world around us.