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The Pandora's Box of Disease

In the news, apart from the constant updates on the advancement of Covid-19, there are also regular reports on the development of numerous vaccines. Scientists from around the world are exploring techniques of any kind in the hopes of finding a cure before the year 2021. However, many scientists warn that this is only the start. When asked whether there will be another pandemic they respond with a firm yes. It is only a matter of when.

The reason behind this pessimistic but realistic outlook into the future is because of global warming and climate change. The melting of permafrost soils that have been frozen for thousands of years is an impending danger. The soils release ancient viruses and bacterias that laid dormant. In August 2016, in a village in the corner of the Siberia tundra called the Yamal Peninsula in the Arctic Circle, a 12-year-old boy and many other people were hospitalised after being infected with Anthrax, a disease that has disappeared for 70 years.

Permafrost is the layer of ice that has remained frozen for thousands of years. It does not melt when the top layer of earth does so in summer time. It provides the perfect habitat for bacteria and viruses to lay dormant. It is dark, cold and has no oxygen. How did these bacteria get there? Thousands of dead infected animals’ corpses are buried near the top. Many microorganisms, bacteria and viruses appear close to the carcasses. When exposed to the daylight, they will escape and infect more animals. Some of the diseases can hop from animals to humans and cause an outbreak.

David Attenborough has warned that time is running out. Research confirmed his statement as it was published that by 2050’s summer the majority of the ice in the arctic will have melted. This will open a Pandora’s box of diseases. Future outbreaks and pandemics will follow suit. Already, there is research showing traces of RNA from diseases such as the Spanish Flu, smallpox, and bubonic plague found buried in Siberia. Future pandemics may not be such a unlikely possibility.

Laura L, Year 12

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