As human-induced climate change accelerates, there’s been a good deal of news coverage discussing the damage caused from melting ice. The loss of this permafrost, as it’s referred to, has resulted in soil shifting – breaking infrastructure and buckling buildings. These deadly hazards have become a new challenge in the Sub-Arctic and Arctic landscape:

Now a new threat associated with melting permafrost has surfaced. Last summer in Siberia, 20 people were hospitalized and a young boy died of Anthrax. The germ was likely released from soil that had previously been frozen along with the remains of an infected deer. Researchers have also discovered other microbes and viruses that lurk in the permafrost:

This episode might be the first instance of what could become a common occurrence. Evolutionary biologist Jean-Michel Claverie at Aix-Marseille University in France had this warning. “Permafrost is a very good preserver of microbes and viruses, because it is cold, there is no oxygen, and it is dark. Pathogenic viruses that can infect humans or animals might be preserved in old permafrost layers, including some that have caused global epidemics in the past.”

Scientific American warns that these microscopic threats to our health might go back tens of thousands of years. “Human viruses from even further back could also make a showing. For instance, the microorganisms living on and within the early humans who populated the Arctic could still be frozen in the soil.”

It’s an assessment that Claverie concurs with. “There are hints that Neandertals and Denisovans could have settled in northern Siberia [and] were plagued by various viral diseases, some of which we know, like smallpox, and some others that might have disappeared. The fact that there might be an infection continuity between us and ancient hominids is fascinating—and might be worrying.”

In a strangely prophetic coincidence, a similar scenario was the plot of a British television program – billed as sci-fi in 2015 – called Fortitude. Hopefully, the fact that the series was renewed for a new season is a good omen that even if germs, viruses, and microbes lurk in the permafrost, our ancestors have survived them once before.