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Anthrax coincidence

October 31, 2016 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 94, Issue 43

It is a remarkable coincidence that C&EN published its cover story on anthrax on Sept. 26 (page 36) when, a couple days later, on Oct. 1, the Washington Postpublished an article online titled “Russia Plans to Kill a Quarter-Million Siberian Reindeer amid Anthrax Fears.”

The C&EN story highlighted a rogue American microbiologist conducting murder that seems politically motivated. The Post story is about reindeer in Siberia’s Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug region being infected by anthrax bacteria that has caused 2,300 of them to die. The outbreak has also killed a boy and sickened almost 100 people. Reindeer there have since been vaccinated.

Experts believe the outbreak occurred after record summer temperatures in the Yamal Peninsula caused permafrost to melt and the frozen carcass of a reindeer previously infected with anthrax thawed, reanimating spores that grazing reindeer encountered. The story has broad socioeconomic implications for the Nenets people and Russia, but it is not a terrorism incident.

Joann Ockerlander
Raleigh, N.C.

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