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Fatalistic chuckles

A friend of mine sent this e-mail to me:

This e-mail does not, repeat, does NOT contain anthrax. You may now take off
your mask and read this message without fear of contamination.
Pay no attention to the white powder being dropped from the unmarked
airplane. There is nothing to see here. Thank you for using Bank.


*chuckle*

As I told him, what nobody's saying, perhaps to calm the public, is that this is very mild. I'd consider this a gentle warning, frankly. Why?

Laurie Garrett published The Coming Plague back in 1994, but had been doing research on the book ages before that. It's now a little out-of-date, but is EXTREMELY well-researched and still quite informative in helping one understand the histories of outbreaks. I haven't yet read her most recent one (Aug 2000), Betrayal of Trust: The Collapse of Global Public Health.

Now, I'm not sure if it was in that one or in another book I've read on epidemiology (there've been so many, they blur together) . . . I've read both fiction and nonfiction . . . but, essentially, countries around the world have had anthrax cultures for *YEARS*. I clearly recall that in one book, I think it was The Cobra Event, they mentioned encountering mobile labs, literally biohazard facilities right in the backs of trucks and vans, sometimes covered with no more than a tarp as a flap, in the Middle East. Now, Cobra is a work of fiction, yes, but it was written by Richard Preston, author of the nonfiction account of the Reston, VA Ebola outbreak, The Hot Zone. One wonders if he put some information that he couldn't verify as fact or that was classified into Cobra. Anyway, anthrax was specifically mentioned.



Anthrax? I would be greatly surprised if they didn't have something far, far worse than anthrax. A little hemorraghic fever here, a few hantaviruses there, oh, look over there - prion? As I recall, in an account that I know was fiction, Preston and Child's excellent book Mount Dragon (well, the research and documentation is good - the ending is somewhat silly), researchers have made a Level 5 lab. Level 5 isn't called Level 5 in real life, but in the book, it's a specific designation for man-made viruses: those that are entirely engineered. Anyone who thinks that humans are not trying to do this has their head in the sand. Also, don't presume that everyone expends the resources on safety that the US does. Level 4 labs, with multiple layers of filtration, closed-air systems, HEPA this, containment that, and systems redundancy, are expensive to construct. For those who bother, geographic isolation is cheaper. Either way, it's more feasible than nuclear weapons manufacturing, which is why bioagents have been called "the poor man's nuke." Incidentally, Preston's brother is the aforementioned Richard Preston, which is probably part of why the documentation in Mount Dragon is so solid.

*shakes head*

The real worry is multiviral cocktails like the former Soviet Union was developing - many *without* antidotes. To my knowledge, the US has never developed any bioweapon without also developing an antidote. With such cocktails, one could literally wipe out the planet. Even with Level 4 infectious agents, a certain percentage of the population will have immunity. A small percentage, maybe only ten percent, but some people would survive it. However, they're not going to have immunity to all the viruses and bacteria in that cocktail - even just one pairing - say, Ebola Zaire and Yersinia pestis (bubonic/pneumonic plague), could wipe all of civilization out, leaving the birds chirping. Your basic viral gin and tonic. Hey, how about something subtle, like airborne HIV? Mix something short-term and fast in with something long-term so that when you think you've got it licked, you've already doomed the next generation, particularly when you're engaged in something as basic as sex deliberately for procreation, so it has to be unsafe. Yep, can't use condoms when you're trying to continue the species!

Yes, there's danger of contamination. The problem is that zealots don't care if they die or if their people die. To them, annihilating the enemy, even if they wipe themselves out in the process, is an acceptable risk. They don't care about the big picture.

How do we combat it?

We need to get off the damn planet. Earth is too small already. Space colonization is a necessity, and multiple colonies, at that. Yes, we run the risk of encountering some alien bug. However, we've got plenty of our own bugs to deal with already - what's one or two more? The benefits outweigh the potential risks. Yep, a little extraterrestrial imperialism would probably help our species quite a bit in the long run.

In the meantime, I'd imagine that biostocks are probably not a bad investment right now, and if real estate in remote areas isn't getting at least a slight boost, I'd be surprised. :)

Incidentally, I don't have a gas mask, nor do I intend to get one. You have to take it off to eat, and you can't put Clorox on your food - it just doesn't have quite the same flavor-enhancing effect as basil and oregano, and it tends to be toxic. :(

Oh, and no, we're not prepared for a bioattack. Not by a long shot. Even despite the New York Times report that after reading Cobra Event, President Clinton "was so alarmed that he instructed intelligence experts to evaluate its credibility." Nope, unless you're a survivalist who's already living in a remote cluster community, growing your own food externally and inside the house with the appropriate equipment, the generators, the firearms and fencing (to keep out the droves of infected people who will head your way seeking shelter), and enough others like you to create a sustainable gene pool with an appropriate fresh water source, odds are that you personally won't survive. Anthrax spores can live for forty years, or so I've read, so it's probably wise to build up a good library since you won't be traveling anywhere for a while . . . heck, your kids won't get to travel at all until they're adults, and that's optimistic. Also wise to have medical facilities on hand, with a few experienced MDs and teachers, if you want the knowledge to survive. In a not-quite-worst case scenario, major metro areas will get first wave treatment, the limited amounts of vaccine will be used there, outlying areas will get slower deaths. It won't be as slow as The Stand because there will be multiple leaks from major metro centers - the military won't be mobilized quickly enough to contain all escapees in quarantine. Worst case scenario, there won't be any vaccine synthesized rapidly enough because it will be a cocktail dispersion.

Who was it that said that the human race will not end in fire or ice, but with a gasp and a wheeze?

Have a nice day, everyone! :)

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
twr
Oct. 18th, 2001 10:46 am (UTC)
Why am I not surprised to see you considering other possible attacks than anthrax? Hell, anthrax isn't even contagious among humans, so it's effectiveness as a weapon of mass destruction is highly limited.

I see contagious bioweapons as a much more dangerous possibility, and we don't need to go so far as to worry about engineered strains. The US and Former Soviet Union both had the only known samples of smallpox left in the world. Smallpox vaccinations stopped in the US in the 70s, and were only effective for about 20~ish years. So, if samples of smallpox from the former soviet union have fallen into the hands of terrorists, they certainly wouldn't have to worry about "weaponizing" it and droping it on cities from crop dusters -- why not simply infect some suicide commandos with it, and send them to crowded, high traffic areas of major cities and let the outbreak spread naturally. Millions would be infected before it could be contained and a new program of vaccination could begin.

Add to that the possibility of multi-viral cocktails, and you have a truly frightening prospect.

pointedview
Oct. 18th, 2001 12:41 pm (UTC)
Excellent point, my friend - I'm impressed, but not surprised to find that you know your infectious diseases. Yes, smallpox would be a very effective agent. No, I'm not saying that we necessarily have to worry about engineered viruses. Plain old single strains of certain naturally-occurring agents would be quite devastating all by themselves, and then add Plain Old Baddie One with Plain Old Baddie Two, shaken not stirred . . .

Husband made an interesting point last night: people have been outraged over the WTC/Pentagon attacks, but we haven't seen the same outrage over biological weapons being utilized, and he's not sure why that's the case. We've seen people acting fearful, yes, but not angry . . . at least, not around here.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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