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Biological Health Hazard – Anthrax (Human, reindeer): Yamal, Russia



[Update August 6, 2016]
Source: Outbreak News Today

Anthrax kills 2,349 reindeer in Siberia: OIE data

The anthrax outbreak in the Yamal Peninsula in of northern Siberia, Russia, that began in mid-July has resulted in the death of 2,349 reindeer, according to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE),

The five outbreaks in different areas of Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrug resulted in some 2649 total cases.

Published Date: 2016-07-30 12:37:26
Subject: PRO/AH/EDR> Anthrax – Russia (04): (YN) reindeer, human exposure
Archive Number: 20160730.4381564

Date: Saturday, 30 July 2016
Source: The Siberian Times [edited]

40 now hospitalised after anthrax outbreak in Yamal, more than half are children
Russian army biological protection troops called in amid warnings ‘utmost care’ needed to stop deadly infection spreading. The concern among experts is that global warming thawed a diseased animal carcass at least 75 years old, buried in the melting permafrost, so unleashing the disease.

A total of 40 people, the majority of them children, from nomadic herder families in northern Siberia, are under observation in hospital amid fears they may have contracted the anthrax. Doctors stress that so far there are NO confirmed cases. Up to 1200 reindeer were killed either by anthrax or a heatwave in the Arctic district where the infection spread.

Specialists from the Chemical, Radioactive and Biological Protection Corps were rushed to regional capital Salekhard on a military Il-76 aircraft. They were deployed by Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu to carry laboratory tests on the ground, detect and eliminate the focal point of the infection, and to dispose safely of dead animals. The move confirmed the seriousness with which the authorities view the anthrax outbreak, the 1st in this region since 1941. The army unit is equipped with military helicopters as well as off road vehicles for what Yamalo-Nenets governor Dmitry Kobylkin calls ‘an extremely challenging task of liquidating the consequences — and disinfecting the focus — of the infection. I think this perhaps will be the 1st in the world operation cleaning up a territory of mass deer mortality over such distances in the tundra.’

Eight new people were admitted to hospital in Salekhard early on Friday [29 Jul 2016], bringing the total to 40, said officials. Earlier it was reported that 13 were in hospital. ‘As of now, there is no single diagnosis of the dangerous infection,’ said a spokesman for the governor of Yamalo-Nenets, Dmitry Kobylkin. ‘Medics are taking preliminary measures even if there is the slightest doubt over the nomads’ state of health.’

The 40 are all from a total of 63 nomads belonging to a dozen families who were at the site of the outbreak at Tarko-Sale Faktoria camp. The remaining nomads have been evacuated some 60 kilometres [about 37 miles] from the focus of infection in Yamalsky district.

A prolonged period of exceptionally hot weather in an Arctic Siberian district — with temperatures of up to 35 degrees C — has led to melting of permafrost in Yamalo-Nenets and other regions. The outbreak of anthrax earlier this week is the 1st in this part of Russia since 1941. Officials say 1200 reindeer have died in recent days, evidently through a combination of infection from anthrax, and the heatwave — unprecedented in living memory. A major [animal] inoculation programme is also underway with a local state of emergency declared at Tarko-Sale Faktoria camp, above the Arctic Circle and close to the Yaro To lake, some 340 kilometres [about 210 miles] north-east of Salekhard.

Anna Popova, director of state health watchdog Rospotrebnadzor, flew to the region on Thursday [28 Jul 2016] and insisted ‘all measures are now being taken to minimise the risks’. She denied there was a risk of a spread to other regions of Russia. But she warned: ‘We need to be ready for any manifestations and return of infection. The (Yamalo-Nenets) territory, which has had no anthrax in animals or people since 1941, and which has been considered free from infection since 1968, demonstrates that this infection is subtle. ‘It’s not the 1st situation when anthrax returns to Russia.’

Sanitation of the territory and disposal of reindeer carcasses will begin in the district in the nearest future.

‘To increase lab control, scientists from 2 Rospotrebnadzor research institutes are doing all necessary research,’ Anna Popova said. ‘Additionally, a lab has been deployed on the ground, and work is being done in the (scientific) institutions in Moscow and other cities of Russia.’

The concern follows an outbreak of the bubonic plague in the Altai Mountains in southern Siberia earlier this month [July 2016].

It is already clear that the anthrax outbreak has come despite major precautions against the disease in a part of northern Russia which takes huge pride in its venison industry, with supplies sent to other regions of the country and abroad. Officials insisted that last year [2015] almost half a million reindeer were vaccinated against anthrax.

One leading academic Professor Florian Stammler, of the Arctic Centre, University of Lapland, Finland, has warned of the serious risk of anthrax spreading around the Yamal Peninsula from this location, which he portrays as a reindeer junction. He told The Siberian Times: ‘I have myself moved together with private herders around the Yaro To lake. The location is an important pass way for many reindeer nomads, used in all seasons. The nomads with the furthest longest migration routes use it in early May, just before calving time, moving up North in spring towards their summer pastures.’

‘The 2nd “wave” of herders use this location as a summer site, where they group with several households uniting many small herds into a big one for withstanding mosquito harassment,’ Professor Florian Stammler said. ‘People stay close to the Yaro To lake for fishing there in summer. In autumn the site is again used as a pass way for herders returning from their summer pastures south heading towards the slaughtering sites in the south of the Yamal Peninsula. In winter, some private herders use the site and get supplies from the trading post in Tarko Sale. This shows that the place is very intensively used. Due to the high mobility of herders using this site, utmost care has to be taken for preventing of anthrax being spread all over the Yamal Peninsula.’

Experts believe that the reason of the outbreak is the unusually warm summer and the resulting thawing of the tundra. Anthrax has the potential to survive for a century or more. It appears that the frozen infection ‘was unlocked by the thawing of a diseased carcass from a long time ago’, The Siberian Times was told. ‘We have a significant change in our climate in this region. Global warming can be behind the return of anthrax.’ The reindeer here were weakened by the heat, and strong warm winds. The region has faced ‘hot days’ of temperatures in the range of 25 degrees C to 35 degrees C for around a month, it is reported.

The lethal anthrax bacteria turn into spores when frozen, but morph back into their dangerous state when temperatures warm. [Confusion here. The spores form in the soil in the summer heat. They survive well in the frozen permafrost. When this melts there is the potential for germination and vegetative cycling for a limited series before it resporulates. – Mod.MHJ] Potentially this process can unleash widespread old bacteria across regions with melting permafrost, as a number of scientists have warned.

The Sakha Republic, east of this region, has some 200 burial grounds of animals that succumbed to anthrax in the past.

The authorities insist the outbreak will not impact venison exports. They stress it was restricted to the site around Tarko-Sale camp, yet the warning of Professor Stammler that the location is a reindeer crossroads means there is no scope for complacency. A spokesman for the governor said: ‘This case won’t affect exports or the quality of meat.’ Most exports go to Germany, Sweden, Finland and the UK.

‘This case is local, it is about one centre — Yaro To lake in Yamalsky district. No other centres (of anthrax infection) have been discovered. Control and safety measures have been restricted across the whole region. There is no single chance that infected venison will make it to the slaughter complex: all of them, each and every patch is thoroughly checked in line with the highest standards. We’re interested in exporting high-quality venison just like it has always been. Our long-term history with foreign partners says that we are trusted and our reputation is precious. We’re hoping that this situation will not impact on attitudes towards Yamal products.’

Communicated by:
David Rockett

[Many thanks, David.

The permafrost melting in the heat is clearly the received cause of this outbreak of anthrax, but the actual cause has yet to be determined, as well as why so many reindeer have died. A difficult problem, but they now have enough feet on the ground to sort it out. Plus a great opportunity for training. Note that though “anthrax” has been confirmed in one or more reindeer, they state that human anthrax has not been confirmed yet.

As the reporting has continued, the location of these afflicted reindeer has moved from report to report. It is now, from this report and its map, 340 km northeast of Salekhard. And while this area reported its last anthrax case in 1941, it was not declared clear until 1968. And elsewhere they have been vaccinating half a million reindeer each year. Well, it is claimed so. In my experience with Russian numbers, there tends to be a confusion between the numbers of vaccine doses provided and the actual number of animals vaccinated. How many actually get vaccinated can be uncertain. – Mod.MHJ

A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map can be accessed at:]

See Also

Anthrax – Russia (03): (YN) reindeer, human exposure 20160728.4376306
Anthrax – Russia (02): (YN) reindeer, human exposure 20160727.4373872
Anthrax – Russia: (YN) reindeer, human exposure 20160726.4370736

A ProMED-mail post
ProMED-mail is a program of the International Society for Infectious Diseases

Category A – Bioterrorism Agents

Category A pathogens are those organisms/biological agents that pose the highest risk to national security and public health because they can be easily disseminated or transmitted from person to person; result in high mortality rates and have the potential for major public health impact; might cause public panic and social disruption, and require special action for public health preparedness. — National Institutes of Health


Anthrax is a  high-priority agent and poses a high risk to national security, it can be easily transmitted and disseminated, result in high mortality, has potential major public health impact, may cause public panic, or require special action for public health preparedness.

Bacillus anthracis (anthrax) is a non-contagious disease caused by the spore-forming bacterium Bacillus anthracis. An anthrax vaccine does exist but requires many injections for stable use. When discovered early, anthrax can be cured by administering antibiotics (such as ciprofloxacin).[11] Its first modern incidence in biological warfare were when Scandinavian “freedom fighters” supplied by the German General Staff used anthrax with unknown results against the Imperial Russian Army in Finland in 1916.[12] In 1993, the Aum Shinrikyo used anthrax in an unsuccessful attempt in Tokyo with zero fatalities.[8] Anthrax was used in a series of attacks on the offices of several United States Senators in late 2001. The anthrax was in a powder form and it was delivered by the mail.[13] Anthrax is one of the few biological agents that federal employees have been vaccinated for. The strain used in the 2001 anthrax attack was identical to the strain used by the USAMRIID.[14]   -–Wikipedia


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