Some viruses have also been detected in polar bears in Alaska and Russia (canine distemper, dolphin morbillivirus, phocine distemper, and porpoise morbillivirus).
So far, there is one known case of rabies, along with clear evidence of exposure to rabies.
The big concern for scientists is that changing disease vectors or pathways in a warming Arctic will introduce more pathogens, due to:
- Increased human activity in a warming Arctic (e.g., ballast waters, sewage disposal).
- The migration of lower-latitude species to the Far North, as higher temperatures change habitats and distribution patterns.
More study is needed to understand these potential impacts.
Scientists believe that some polar bears will be more susceptible to disease due to the cumulative stresses of reduced prey opportunities from climate change, combined with a weakened immune system from pollution.
Seals are also known to be vulnerable to novel diseases. Scientists hypothesize that Arctic seals will also face increased risks from a warming world.