Animal Husbandry department and Forest officials deposit a bat into a container after catching it inside a well at Changaroth in Kozhikode in the Indian state of Kerala on May 21, 2018. - A deadly virus carried mainly by fruit bats has killed at least three people in southern India, sparking a statewide health alert May 21. Eight other deaths in the state of Kerala are being investigated for possible links to the Nipah virus, which has a 70 percent mortality rate. (Photo by - / AFP) (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)

The most feared viruses are those for which medical science has not yet developed a treatment, cure or preventive vaccine. Often, such viral agents have only been recently discovered and emerged as an outbreak in a particular region of the world. This is the case for the Nipah virus (NiV), which has claimed the lives of at least nine people in India this year.

Nipah virus was first discovered in Malaysia in the late 1990s when an outbreak of the virus struck approximately 265 people. People became sick after physically interacting with pigs in the area, with symptoms manifesting as brain inflammation.

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As bad as this year’s flu epidemic has been, at least in the United States, most of us rest easy knowing that deadlier and nastier mass-murdering pathogens such as bubonic plague and smallpox live mostly in our collective memory. Or do they? As climate change melts longstanding permafrost, some scientists fear that “zombie pathogens,” which have been slumbering for centuries, might be waking up, threatening to overtake humanity again.

Permafrost refers to a layer of permanently frozen earth—it has to be frozen for a minimum of two years to qualify—found primarily in most continually frosty parts of the world such as the Arctic Circle, Greenland, Alaska and Siberia. According to National Geographic, there are some 22.8 million square miles of permafrost in the world. Research has shown that Earth's permafrost heated up by 6 degrees Celsius during the 20th century and scientists predict even more dramatic melting by 2100. Not only will this raise ocean levels and exacerbate erosion, it may also mean a release of pathogens better left frozen.

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Credit: Dr. Andreas Hugentobler - Own work, CC BY 2.0 de, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=818292

[DIGEST: BBC, NBC, Ecowatch]

In August 2016, in the far reaches of the Siberian tundra, a 12-year-old boy died, and twenty other people were hospitalized, after being infected by anthrax. The source: a reindeer that had died 75 years earlier.

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[DIGEST: IFLS, Tufts Now, Sci News, The Science Explorer, Ars Technica]

How human are you? New research shows that more than 8% of our genetic makeup isn’t our own: it comes from viruses. Some of that viral DNA may have been passed down from our ancestors for at least 670,000 years.

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