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The threat and fear of exposure to bioterrorist weapons looms ever so close since the deaths linked to pulmonary anthrax. Is the worry legitimate and what can we do for ourselves and the kids?
The prime disease candidates the terrorists can employ as weapons are anthrax and smallpox. Why these? They have worked in the past and new technology plus suicide messengers have improved on the success potential.
Anthrax is an animal bacterial disease, not a human infectious disease. We naturally can acquire the disease by inhaling, eating or exposing open sores to the anthrax spores from animal hides, wastes and meats. The weapons threat comes from refined, aerosolized anthrax. The death of 5 Americans resulted from the variant Ames strain which originated at the U.S.Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Disease at Fort Detrick, Maryland. (1) The technology dates back to the Japanese in the 1930's and the British-U.S. goal to blast German cities with anthrax fragmentation bombs during World War 2. The expectation was for 90-100% mortality from pulmonary anthrax. The Scottish island Gruinard remains uninhabitable as a result of anthrax soil contamination from the 1943 tests. (2)
As with all infectious disease, the risk of getting the disease depends upon the risk of exposure coupled with the status of one's immune system at the time of exposure. The mortality rate for skin anthrax is 10-20% but drops drastically with antibiotics. Inhalation anthrax mortality ranges from 50-90% even with antibiotics and about 50% for the gastrointestinal form. The anthrax spores can be inactivated by boiling, irradiation, or treating them with hydrogen peroxide or formaldehyde.
Smallpox on the other hand is a highly contagious, serious disease caused by the variola virus. Historically, smallpox ravaged populations for centuries. In the 1970's we ceased vaccinating against this disease and the World Health Organization declared it eradicated from the earth. The remaining smallpox virus had been kept in labs in the U.S. and Soviet Union. Reports have surfaced that Soviet scientists developed the capacity to produce large quantities of the virus adapted to spread by missile warhead.(3) God only knows which countries may have their hands on this and perhaps other genetically engineered strains of the variola virus. As a weapon, the virus infectivity in the natural environment can last from 24-48 hours after being aerosolized and not exposed to sunlight or ultraviolet light. (4) Worse yet, infected "suicide" carriers could silently transmit the disease by mixing with the general population. Individuals with smallpox are highly infectious just before they develop a rash about 10 to 14 days after infection, until all the pox lesions have healed and all scabs have fallen off. Clothing and personal items can transmit the virus that has been shed from the skin lesions. The mortality rate can range from 20-30%.
If you think things couldn't get much worse than that, consider the terror of a state-declared health emergency in the event of a biologic weapons attack. Legislation has been implemented which gives public health officials the power to use the state militia to enforce vaccination during any state-declared health emergency. (5,6) That means everyone gets vaccinated regardless of health status, contraindications to vaccination or personal objection. The militia will also be empowered to seize our homes, all private property, prescription drugs, and all roads .The ordinary citizen may think that this would be okay since the anthrax and smallpox vaccines are safe and effective. They are not! Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, says this about the current anthrax vaccine: