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Is Smallpox Poised to Make a Comeback?

APR 20, 2017 | KRISTI ROSA
A serious, and often deadly, infectious disease may be rearing its ugly head years after the World Health Assembly deemed it completely eradicated due to successful vaccination efforts. The disease in question? Smallpox.

Although its origin remains unknown, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), smallpox is thought to date to the 3rd century BCE in the Egyptian Empire. Throughout history, as civilizations continued to grow and expand their reach, the disease managed to spread across the globe, leaving devastation in its wake. Although the last natural outbreak of smallpox occurred back in 1949, it seems that as the frozen Siberian tundra continues to melt, the chances of the virus making a comeback are not so far-fetched, at least according to major new source, the Independent.

According to the news source, experts are warning that as the tundra melts, corpses of those who died during an epidemic that occurred over 120 years ago may resurface, and if that happens, the disease might as well.

“Back in the 1890s, there occurred a major epidemic of smallpox. There was a town where up to 40% of the population died,” Boris Kershengolts, of the Siberian branch of the Academy of Sciences said in the press release. “Naturally, the bodies were buried under the upper layer of permafrost soil, on the bank of the Kolyma River. Now, a little more than 100 years later, Kolyma’s floodwaters have started eroding the banks.” With the permafrost melting, the erosion process may be accelerated.

In the Yamal peninsula near Salekhard, where anthrax spores were reportedly found, experts from the Virology and Biotechnology Centere have channeled their efforts into seeing if other diseases were present as well. Their findings? Corpses covered with sores “that look like the marks left by smallpox.” Although they “did not find the virus itself, they did detect fragments of its DNA.”

This is not just one lone occurrence; however, another news outlet, The Daily Mail, reported on how the Kakrapar Nuclear Power Plant located in Gujarat, a state in Western India, has been temporarily shut down after discovering that leaky pipes inside the complex were not only corroded, but the “rare alloy” the pipes are made out of may have actually “contracted a smallpox-like virus.”