Workshop Announcement and Call for Nominations
Deadline: 5 April 2019
An international workshop on “Understanding and Responding to Global Health Security Risks from Microbial Threats in the Arctic” will be held on November 6-7, 2019 in Hanover, Germany.
This activity is being planned as a cooperative effort among three boards of the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine [the Polar Research Board, the Board on Life Sciences, and Board on Global Health] in partnership with the InterAcademy Partnership and the European Academies Science Advisory Council.
Motivation. A rapidly warming climate is leading to widespread thawing of permafrost and ice across Arctic and sub-Arctic regions. Among the many concerns this raises are growing questions about bacteria and viruses that could possibly emerge from these thawing environments, raising infectious microbial risks for animal and human populations. This interest grew in 2016, when Siberia’s Yamal Peninsula saw an outbreak of anthrax that infected dozens of people and killed more than 2300 reindeer, which some speculated may have resulted from anthrax spores released from a thawing reindeer carcass. Also in recent years there have been numerous instances where researchers have recovered from permafrost soil samples various fragments of DNA/RNA from diseases such as smallpox, bubonic plague, and the 1918 influenza virus. This raises concerns, given that many currently or previously populated high-latitude regions contain buried remains of humans and animals that died from such diseases. Studies have shown that bacteria and viruses frozen in the environment can remain viable for thousands and even millions of years; and this raises questions about whether permafrost may harbor microbes that are human pathogens, and for which modern immune systems have no protection. Given the very limited studies to date, it is difficult to characterize the magnitude and nature of these potential risks; yet understanding and preparing for “low-probability, high-consequence” events is one of the hallmarks of a robust public health protection strategy.
Workshop Plans. This workshop will bring together an international, interdisciplinary group of experts to explore what is known, and what critical knowledge gaps remain, regarding existing and possible future risks of harmful infectious agents emerging from thawing Arctic environments. Discussions will encompass topics such as:
· known risks such as anthrax, and other unknown human and animal microbial health risks that could conceivably be harbored in ice and permafrost;
· key research needs and critical tools for improving observations and surveillance, to advance our understanding of these risks, and to develop effective early warning systems;
· relevant lessons learned from efforts to address emerging/re-emerging microbial threats elsewhere in the world; and
· opportunities to facilitate interagency and international cooperation on such efforts, and to build upon existing programs and platforms for cooperation.
The workshop may also consider broader “One Health” perspectives on the changing Arctic environment and infectious disease dynamics and questions about whether research on particular pathogens raises new biosafety/biosecurity concerns. We hope to convene active researchers from numerous disciplines, public health officials, and representatives from key Arctic-region indigenous communities (such as reindeer herders).
Seeking Nominations. This workshop will be planned and facilitated by a small appointed committee with expertise in areas such as: arctic climate change and terrestrial ecology (soil, plants, animals); permafrost monitoring and modeling; emerging and re-emerging microbial threats; human and zoonotic infectious disease dynamics; and public health surveillance and response systems. Nominations for people to serve on this planning committee are currently invited, and may be suggested here. The submission deadline for these nominations is 5 April 2019. Suggestions for people to consider as workshop speakers are also welcome, and can be provided here. Self-nominations are welcome. This event will be open to the public, but space will be limited.
This event is made possible with support from the CDC Arctic Investigations program, the USAid Emerging Pandemic Threats Program, the Volkswagen Foundation, and the National Academies’ Raymond and Beverly Sackler Science Fund.
Contact: Lauren Everett, [hidden email]
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