The anthrax outbreak in the Yamal Peninsula, the Arctic part of Russia, is believed to be the largest for 75 years. To fight against the disease, Russia has applied unprecedented measures, including the evacuation of farmers and their families.
Local veterinary services believe the disease probably emanated from animal burial sites – and some pastures where animals have been grazing will be banned for livestock use for the next 25 years.
“This disease has been present in our country for a long time and we have 35,000 officially registered animals with anthrax in burial sites,” said Julia Demina, deputy head of Russian sanitary body Rospotrebnadzor. “These are the places where anthrax spores could be found in the soil.”
13 people hospitalised
“We are now conducting another large burial, where we will pour bleach [into the ground], build fences and set up a special marker in navigation systems, so that, for the next 25 years, any grazing of agricultural animals here will be banned,” added Vyacheslav Hritin, head of Salekhard Veterinary Center, which spends a considerable amount of time fighting against the disease.
So far, at least 13 people are reported to have been hospitalised, thanks to anthrax contamination.
Scientists said it was probable that this latest outbreak was connected to abnormal heat, which resulted in melting the permafrost where spores of anthrax can live for decades. At the moment, temperatures in the region are going over 30°C, which is very unusual for this area of Russia.
Officials in damage limitation mode
“On the one hand the permafrost began to melt, on the other the animals were short of fodder and they ate the plants together with the land,” explained Professor Irina Donnik, rector of the Ural State Agricultural University. “It is obvious that there was a cattle cemetery here at some stage. This disease is transmitted very rarely from animal to animal; more often it moves via the feed base.”
In total, Yamal Peninsula has nearly 700,000 head of northern deer, of which only 480,000 are vaccinated, according to official information from the local veterinary service. The region supplies meat to most parts of Russia and has exported at least 500 tonnes of venison to Europe, as well as some shipments to other parts of the world. Despite the concerns of experts, local officials have denied any possibility that the outbreak will hurt export supplies.
“There is not even a small chance that contaminated meat could get into the slaughter complexes, as each shipment is tested individually in accordance to the highest standards,” stated Natalia Khlopunova, press-secretary for the governor of Yamal Peninsula Dmitri Kobylkin. “It is in our interests that the meat we supply for export has the highest quality, as always.”
Several insiders have said that the disease has already claimed more than 3,000 head of deer and there are still several herds in the quarantine zone. In addition, ecologists have warned that there are already scavengers eating the dead animals, so unless active measures are taken by the local veterinary authorities, the area where the disease has spread could grow significantly within the next couple of weeks.