Scientists have revived a long-frozen zombie virus in the Siberian region of Russia. But it only infects a specific type of amoeba, not humans.
If you’ve been on social media recently, you’ve probably seen headlines and posts about the so-called “zombie” virus being revived from the permafrost, or the ground that is continuously frozen, after nearly 50,000 years.
Can the “zombie” virus resurrected from the Siberian permafrost after nearly 50,000 years be able to infect humans?
No, the “zombie” virus that resurrected from the Siberian permafrost after nearly 50,000 years cannot infect humans.
WHAT WE FIND
European scientists resurrected 13 new viruses from seven samples of permafrost in Russia’s Siberian region and found that they were still infectious, according to an unreviewed preprint paper.
But these viruses, including “zombie viruses” that have been around for nearly 50,000 years, cannot infect humans, as the paper and co-author Jean-Michel Claverie notes.
“Absolutely not,” said Claverie, who is also a professor of medicine at Aix-Marseille University in France, when VERIFY asked if the virus poses a danger to humans. “This is a virus that is capable of infecting a specific type of amoeba called ‘acanthamoeba’.”
The “zombie virus” has been frozen beneath a lake for more than 48,500 years, while scientists have found other viruses in mammoth wool and the intestinal contents of a wolf chemical fossils buried under permafrost, among other specimens. Several other viruses are also believed to be tens of thousands of years old.
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Although these particular viruses will not cause disease in humans, the scientists believe their results can be extrapolated to other viruses capable of infecting humans or animals. Their paper notes that it is “likely” that the permafrost, which is more than 50,000 years old, will eventually release unknown viruses as it thaws.
“How long can these viruses remain infectious after exposure to outdoor conditions (UV light, oxygen, heat) and how likely they are to meet and spread,” the scientists wrote. How it infects a suitable host during that time period cannot be estimated. “However, the risks will certainly increase in the face of global warming as permafrost will continue to accelerate and more people will live in the Arctic following industrial projects.”
This is not the first time scientists have discovered viruses in permafrost. Their most recent study expands on a 2015 study in which Claverie and others revived a 30,000-year-old virus from the Siberian permafrost.
While these specific viruses cannot infect humans, there is a small chance that other viruses emerging from future melting permafrost could pose a threat.
Because viruses that have recovered from permafrost have so far typically only infected small organisms such as amoeba, they are generally “not considered a threat to public health,” said Paulo Verardi, deputy director professor of virology and vaccines at the University of Connecticut, told VERIFY.
He added that we should be “aware and prepared” for potential viruses in the future.
“…From a public health perspective, the relative risk of a flare-up from a relapse is very small (though not zero),” Verardi wrote in an email.
Verardi noted that it is also possible that some viruses that have been killed off will return through permafrost thawing. An example is the virus that causes smallpox in humans, as it can be preserved in the bodies of people who have died from the virus.
“Smallpox viruses (variola viruses), like these amoeba viruses, are very stable and therefore more likely to respawn. Most other viruses are easily degraded and inactivated over time,” he said. “Regardless, at this point we have more tangible and important viral threats to public health, such as SARS-CoV-2, influenza virus, and respiratory syncytial virus. (RSV).”
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https://www.king5.com/article/news/verify/science-verify/zombie-virus-revived-siberian-permafrost-after-nearly-50k-years-cant-infect-humans/536-6eab0076-2f7b-479c-aa12-f35f401e61be Zombie virus found in Siberia can’t infect humans