T.D. Laing tdlaing at nospam.dres.dnd.ca
Tue Oct 27 17:02:19 EST 1998

In article <363625d1.1312553 at news.virgin.net>, fybog at NOSPAMhotmail.com
(fybog) wrote:

> On 26 Oct 1998 14:44:27 GMT, tdlaing at nospam.dres.dnd.ca (T.D. Laing)
> wrote:
> >
> >Actually, the Reston variant of Ebola virus, which affected a monkey
> >colony in Reston, Virginia about 9 years ago, was an airborne virus.  The
> >keepers were found to have anti-Ebola antibodies in their blood, but were
> >unaffected by the virus (as at the time it was monkey-specific).  So,
> >don't think it can't happen with the human-specific variants.
> Yes, the strain went airborne, but it had to sacrifice something for
> that mutation - it was less virulent and unable to infect the new
> host.

Ebola Reston had a 100% mortality rate in the infected monkeys, so I
wouldn't exactly call it "less virulent".  That it did not seem to affect
the human keepers is irrelevant to the main argument, that it is only a
matter of time before airborne strains of human Ebola will occur.  And,
lest you've forgotten your epidemic histories, Yersinia pestis can become
airborne (i.e. pneumonic plague) with a near 100% mortality rate in
itself.  Anthrax also is nearly 100% lethal in its pneumonic form.

> In whatever way  a bug is modified by genetic engineers or
> evolution to become more virulent there is always a cost to the bug.
> It may survive for less time outside the body, be less destructive
> once it is in there, or be non-viable outside of the nurturing
> laboratory setting.

Recent studies have indicated that when the evolutionary stimulus is
removed (e.g. remove the antibiotics from a resistant strain of bacteria),
the bugs do not just dump their antibiotic-resistance genes and become
sensitive again.  These bugs adapt, and keep their adaptations for future

> >no one can control terrorists, which is a more likely scenario than a
> >nation using biowarfare.  After all, that cult in Japan gassed a Tokyo
> >subway with sarin (nerve gas), and you don't need all that much technology
> >to grow some of the favorite biowarfare bugs.
> Quite true, but not many of them have done it yet have they? Almost
> anyone can grow a biowarfare bug, but we haven't been wiped out yet.

Yet.  The CBC's "The National" had a very interesting documentary on a few
weeks back about the state of Russia's biowarfare research establishment. 
The 1979 accidental anthrax release at a military research establishment
in Sverdlosk killed over 70 civilians, and to this day no one knows how
many soldiers died.  All of Russia's science programs are in such a
shambles now, that the CIA fears some of the scientists have gone to the
black markets and countries like Iraq.  There apparently is also evidence
suggesting the Russians had developed a "super anthrax" bug, against which
no vaccine was effective.

> Despite the sterotypical image of a terroist being an easily excitable
> psychopathic nutcase I am pretty sure that they are not. They would
> have to plan things carefully and think about what they were doing, or
> they would alienate anyone that supported their cause. Alternatively
> they could realease a highly virulent bacterium or virus and wipe out
> their supporters by accident. That is the problem at the moment with
> biological warfare, there is not enough control over where the bugs go
> and who they kill.

That is probably the only reason that keeps the general or indiscriminate
use of biowarfare bugs in check.  But then again, I'm sure someone
somewhere has developed some bug that is highly selective for different
races or genders.  A few months back some medical doctors were recalled to
South Africa from Canada for hearings because they were thought to have
been involved in a South African research program investigating such
things as race-specific biowarfare.  No one is actually going to advertise

> >I'd be more worried about other bugs than Ebola or Marburg.  Like a really
> >nasty flu strain.
> Something like that is possibly more likely, but the world has managed
> to survive many very nasty flu strain epidemics so far. There wouldn't
> be enough control over the spread of the disease to make it a viable
> option. It could rapidly spread over the whole world and infect the
> very people who created and released it (or their supporters). Wait a
> while until they can figure out how to control it. Then I think it
> will be time to worry. 

Spread of such bugs is determined by large extent by wind and weather
patterns, which are relatively local events, as well as by infected people
fleeing the affected area, which can then increase the reach of the
agent.  A Vancouver newspaper published an article a few months back,
suggesting a possible scenario should terrorists release anthrax over the
city.  Anthrax is 100% lethal in its pneumonic form (25% in its cutaneous
form)--and the city would not be able to handle it.  The major players in
monitoring and coordinating these things (the CDC, USAMRIID) believe that
no city in North America is prepared for such a catastrophic event.  What
you suggest is perhaps putting off the problem until one has to deal with
it--and by then it is definitely too late.  The time for contingencies is
now, before anything happens, because once those figure out how to control
it, it wouldn't be too long before they use it.

> At this point you're thinking 'vaccinations'. There is no way that
> enough of the people that are not intended to be killed by the 'super
> bug' could be vaccinated and be certain it is going to work. The
> vaccine may fail, or it may not reach all the desired people.

Several agencies have conceded that in such an event, there is no
logistical way that enough vaccine could be synthesized and administered
to everyone, even if the disease agent were known.

> At the moment the holders of biological weapons have gun that they
> cannot point in a specific direction and could well end up shooting
> themselves with it I think they will hold their fire until they have
> at least that part figured out.

You must have far more faith than I do then.


T.D. Laing
tdlaing at dres.dnd.ca

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