Fears of another pandemic are renewed after scientists resurrected a zombie virus trapped under a frozen lake for 50,000 years.
If the permafrost melts at higher temperatures, even deadlier viruses could be released, disease experts have warned.
A team of medical experts from the University of Aix-Marseille discovered the ancient “Pandoravirus” in the melting permafrost of Siberia, Russia.
The disease, trapped beneath a lake bed in Yakutia for 48,500 years, is believed to be the oldest “living” virus yet discovered.
It infects unicellular organisms and is not thought to pose a threat to humans, experts said.
Professor Jean-Michel Claverie, who led the landmark study, issued a stark warning to medical authorities in the first significant update on “live” viruses in permafrost since 2015.
His team said up to a fifth of the country in the Northern Hemisphere is underpinned by permanently frozen ground that, if thawed, could release a host of deadly microbes that have been dormant for thousands of years.
“This falsely suggests that such occurrences are rare and that ‘zombie viruses’ do not pose a public health threat,” Prof Claverie’s team wrote in their findings.
The scientist isolated 13 virus types from seven ancient Siberian permafrost samples and looked only at those that infected an amoeba called the acanthamoeba.
This was done for safety reasons as it is believed that these bugs cannot infect humans.
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“The biological hazard associated with the revival of prehistoric, amoeba-infecting viruses is…completely negligible,” the study states.
Meanwhile, there are suggestions that Russian scientists could inadvertently trigger a new pandemic by studying viruses from permafrost-preserved remains of mammoths and woolly rhinos.
The “risky” experiment with paleoviruses – as they are also known – is being carried out in the top-secret Vector laboratory in Novosibirsk.
It is believed that examining dead carcasses with dormant viruses is more dangerous due to the possibility of the disease spreading to live animals.
Concerns about the revival of “zombie” pathogens rose to prominence when a child died in an anthrax outbreak in northern Siberia in 2016.
The fall — the first in the area since 1941 — was linked to a heat wave that melted the permafrost, exposing an infected reindeer carcass.
Ohio State University researchers claimed to have discovered genetic material from 33 viruses in ice samples from the Tibetan Plateau about 15,000 years old.
It comes as an expert warned signs of a “major” virus outbreak are “on the horizon”.
Prof Mark Woolhouse, Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, believes that ‘Disease X’ is ‘just around the corner’.
The threat of unknown viruses that are transmissible to humans and can potentially cause widespread epidemics is referred to as Disease X by the WHO.
Last year they warned that the next pandemic could be of Black Death proportions, which killed an estimated 75 million people.
Prof Woolhouse said a recent outbreak of polio, detected in sewage in the UK and rapidly mutating, is a sign of the challenges ahead.
He told The Telegraph: “There’s a name for what we’re seeing in the UK and elsewhere at the moment, it’s called Chatter.
“It’s a term anti-terrorist [units] use it to describe the small events that could mean something bigger on the horizon… Infectious diseases work the same way.”
Scientists believe the next pandemic is likely to be caused by “zoonotic” diseases — when infections jump from animals to humans.
Of the 1.67 million unknown viruses on the planet, up to 827,000 people could be infected by animals, according to the EcoHealth Alliance.
A study published in Nature Communications identified Southeast Asia, southern and central Africa, areas around the Amazon and eastern Australia as the areas at highest risk for new diseases.
And as the human population swells and encroaches further into animal habitats, the risk of disease transmission to humans increases.
The nightmare scenario is that one of these new diseases emerges, or a strain of an older disease that is both highly contagious and highly deadly – allowing it to spread rapidly and kill millions before the world can take action.
https://www.thesun.ie/tech/9808959/disease-x-pandemic-fears-frozen-lake/ Fear of new Disease X pandemic as ‘zombie can case’ virus trapped under frozen lake after 50,000 years