Russia’s health ministry has confirmed 21 cases of anthrax, including one fatality, after an unusual heatwave melted permafrost in its remote far north, releasing potentially lethal spores from the soil.
Russian health minister Veronika Skvortsova has said that there was no threat of the outbreak spreading beyond the Yamalo-Nenets region.
"The anthrax outbreak is under control and we hope it soon stabilises and subsides," she said. The health minister has said that the Emergency Situations Ministry has set up 80 tents to organise a camp for victims of the outbreak.
The Yamalo-Nenets region, 2,000 kilometres northeast of Moscow, has been under quarantine for a week after the deadly bacterium infected at least nine nomadic reindeer herders and their animals.
"Unfortunately 20 people had their (anthrax) diagnosis confirmed," a spokeswoman for the Yamalo-Nenets regional authorities told RIA Novosti news agency.
A 12-year-old boy is reportedly the first anthrax fatality in Russia since a major outbreak 75 years ago. This treatable disease is also known as the "Siberian plague".
"I've been told of the death of a boy in our hospital. I have no words to express my feelings," governor Dmitry Kobylkin said.
At least 2,300 reindeer died in recent days due to the anthrax outbreak. Officials say the outbreak was fuelled by a heat wave in the Yamalo-Nenets region where indigenous nomadic people traditionally herd reindeer.
Dmitry Kobylkin said all reindeer in the area had been vaccinated and the deaths had stopped.
Scientists think climate change may be behind the outbreak. They say warmer temperatures are melting Siberia's permafrost, exposing reindeer corpses infected with anthrax in previous outbreaks decades ago. The bacteria can hibernate for many years.
A total of 72 people, 41 of them children, have been hospitalised on suspicion of infection in the main city of Salekhard.
The Russian emergencies ministry said it has evacuated 238 people, including 132 children, from the reindeer herders' camp close to the site of the outbreak.