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Bacillus Anthracis, aka Anthrax

By shellac in News
Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 05:07:01 PM EST
Tags: Science (all tags)

Recently a Florida man died of anthrax poisoning in the first such case in the US since 1974. Yesterday, a second case of anthrax was found in Boca Raton, Florida sparking an FBI investigation [cnn, AP, nytimes]. Now the ever-sketchy New York Post is reporting rumors of a third case and a possible lead in the investigation. Regardless of whether or not the Post article turns out to be true, these anthrax cases are clearly an act of either homicide or terrorism. The medical consequences of this attack are important, but pale in comparison to the psychological and economic aspects.

What is anthrax?

In medical microbiology jargon, Bacillus anthracis is a "large, nonmotile, encapsulated, chain-forming, aerobic, gram-positive rod that forms oval spores" [1]. Large is of course a relative term and in this case it means that the boxcar-shaped bacteria is 1 to 1.5 microns by 4 to 10 microns in size. The bacteria requires oxygen to make spores but not for the spores to grow once they have seeded. The spores can survive in dirt for years, but are destroyed after boiling in water for ten minutes, or after treating with an oxidizing agent, such as hydrogen peroxide. The Gram stain is a way for microbiologists to classify bacteria. Gram-positive simply means that under a microscope, the bacterium appears blue after the Gram stain has been applied.

Anthrax can be found worldwide among domestic and wild herbivores, most notably cattle, sheep, horses, and goats. In humans there are three ways in which anthrax can present. It can be acquired through the skin via cuts, abrasions, or biting flies that have contacted an infected animal, or from direct handling of the animal or its carcass. This is known as cutaneous anthrax. Gastrointestinal anthrax, which is very rare, is from eating b. anthracis contaminated meat. Inhalation anthrax, also known as woolsorter's disease, is associated with industrial exposure to hides, goat's hair, wool, or bones. Inhalation anthrax has been implicated in the Florida attacks, and it is the feared mode of delivery in terrorist attacks.

Anthrax kills via the anthrax toxin that it makes. This toxin is made up of three proteins, The first protein is known as protective antigen (PA), which is cleaved into two by a cellular protease. The larger fragment of PA binds to the cell membranes of the target cell that the bacterium is trying to damage. This fragment then acts as a receptor for the other two toxin proteins, edema factor (EF) and lethal factor (LF), to enter the cell. Edema factor is responsible for the skin lesions of cutaneous anthrax and also turns off polymorphonuclear leukocytes, inhibiting the immune response. Lethal factor kills the unfortunate target cell by an unknown mechanism.

Oh My God, Do I Have Anthrax?

Inhalation anthrax is very difficult to distinguish from any severe viral respiratory illness, such as the flu (cause by the influenza virus). A person may have a flu-like syndrome of fever, muscle pain, shortness of breath, and low blood pressure for one to six days flowing exposure. Then there is a brief period of improvement followed by extreme worsening of symptoms, which can include chest pain, severe shortness of breath, sweating, coughing up of blood, and cyanosis, which is the "blueing" of the lips and extremities from lack of oxygen. After the onset of respiratory distress, death usually comes within 24 hours. Mortality is from 80 to 100%.

The bacteria can be easily tested for at a hospital. An x-ray of the chest shows certain characteristics that can also help make the diagnosis. The strain in Florida is sensitive to penicillin and can be treated with a number of different antibiotics.

Anthrax is not readily contagious. The fact that two individuals working at the same place have tested positive for anthrax, and the fact that is was found on the computer of one individual indicates criminal activity.

Anthrax in biological warfare: Japan's Unit 731 and Sverdlovsk

Biological warfare has an extensive history. During WWII, both Germany and Japan were known to have had invested in biological warfare capabilities. Germany was thought to have "operated under very restrictive orders, formally forbidding all offensive research" [2].

Japan, blinded by fascism, participated in the utterly horrifying experiments at Unit 731, a Japanese military installation in China from 1937 to 1945. These experiments warrant their own article on kuro5hin. Studies were performed on thousands of Chinese individuals using anthrax, typhoid, cholera, the plague, and other pathogens. Estimates of the number killed are between 5,000 and 10,000. Victims were often dissected alive. The unit was ordered burned to the ground at the end of WWII, and logs of the experiments were destroyed. In a horrendous development following the close of World War II, "US military officials bartered the cancellation of all charges of war crimes against the administrators of the Japanese WWII BW [biological warfare] program in exchange for the tissue pathology data from Japanese experiments with BW agents on human subjects" [3]. Much of this data later turned out to be academically useless. The existence of these experiments was not acknowledged by Japan until an August 1998 Supreme Court ruling, which stated that these experiments were well known in academic circles.

[As an aside, I did not know about Unit 731 until a briefing I had this morning. As an American, I want to express my shame and embarrassment at the actions of my government at that point in history.]

In 1979, 64 people died of an anthrax outbreak in Sverdlovsk (now called Ekaterinburg) in the former Soviet Union. Initially, Soviet officials claimed that it was caused by cutaneous and gastrointestinal anthrax from exposure to infected animals. In fact it was later found that most of the cases were inhalation anthrax from a nearby military installation. The majority of sources indicate that it was an explosion at the facility that set off a huge plume of anthrax over the neighboring area.

The effectiveness of anthrax as a biological weapon

One important conclusion can be drawn from Unit 731 and the Soviet anthrax gaff, which is that anthrax is very difficult to use as a biological weapon, and only with limited results. In both cases large amounts of anthrax were released on the population with a proportionally small number of deaths. The bacterium does not aerosolize readily, and even in the Soviet accident, where a huge amount of anthrax was released into the air, relatively few were killed. At Unit 731, the Japanese likely discovered what is commonly known in bioterrorism circles, that the bacterium is for the most part destroyed by the heat of a bomb explosion. Further frustrating efforts to use it in bioterrorism is the large titer needed to give somebody inhalation anthrax. Some thousands of spores have to be inhaled before a person becomes ill.

For the large part, the claims on some news sources that millions of people could die if it is released in Washington are simply not true. There is no known effective means of distributing enough bacteria to that many people.

The media sensationalism of this anthrax outbreak is feeding into the FUD of terrorism. Now don't get me wrong, the people immediately exposed, including anybody who went into that Boca Raton building, should receive their doses of ciprofloxacin and be tested for anthrax. Also, if a bag of anthrax were to be dropped at Grand Central Station, everybody who goes through it that day are at high-risk and should be treated. Also, if you are ill with flu-like symptoms and for some reason suspect somebody might have poisoned you with anthrax, don't just sit around in your circa-1980s Anthrax T-shirt and read k5, go to your ER. Flu season officially starts in November.

This being said, there is no reason to be stockpiling antibiotics or to be locking yourself in your house, as individuals in Boca Raton, Florida are doing. This is the exactly the equivalent of being one of the people who decided to go live in a cave and stockpile guns and canned beans for a few weeks during the whole Y2K scare. It is completely uncalled for and is playing into the hands of the terrorists, regardless of whether or not they are behind these attacks.

Anthrax is psychological warfare.

As I stated in the introductory paragraph, the most potentially devastating consequence of an anthrax attack is psychological and economic. If people begin to stay indoors at all times and stockpile antibiotics, the economy will suffer and there will be an antibiotic shortage. The natural flora of infectious diseases will change because of massive numbers of people taking antibiotics they don't need and building up resistance among more common diseases that we actually do have. People will begin suffering the relatively rare side effects of some of the stronger antibiotics, such as tendonitis, and there would end up being more sick people than with just an anthrax attack, not to mention a poorer economy to boot. This would be disastrous and far more damaging than the limited scale of an anthrax attack.

I hope the New York Post article is not true, and I anticipate an increase in this anthrax FUD if more victims are found, or if a bigger anthrax attack occurs. Please, help to diminish the dangers of mass hysteria by telling people about what you learned here in this article. A more worthy cause to worry about is the genetic engineering of biological weapons more powerful than anthrax.

Who am I?

I am an NYU medical student. Due to these recent events, this morning we were given a briefing by an individual I will not name, who is incredibly respected in the medical field and was involved in the government Committee on Research and Development Needs for Improving Civilian Medical Response to Chemical and Biological Terrorism Incidents Response. I have attempted to provide citations via web links where I could, but some important facts about anthrax in biological warfare are distorted and not well known on the internet, and instead come from the doctors who spoke to us at the meeting. I have been instructed to pass on this knowledge to patients and friends of mine, some of who live in Florida. I am also passing this on to kuro5hin readers. I am obviously not a doctor yet, so do not take any of this as medical advice.

[1] Fauci et al. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine. pp. 897-899. New York: McGraw-Hill 1998.
[2] FAS.org - see link within article
[3] FAS.org - see link within article


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Anthrax is
o scary 41%
o scary for those in the Boca Raton building, but not for me 27%
o not scary at all for anybody. I fear not death. 11%
o a pretty cool band. Are there any diseases left that I can name my band after? 19%

Votes: 72
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o Kuro5hin
o a Florida man died
o cnn
o AP
o nytimes
o third case
o extensive history
o 2
o utterly horrifying experiments
o 3
o anthrax outbreak in Sverdlovsk
o Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine.
o Also by shellac

Display: Sort:
Bacillus Anthracis, aka Anthrax | 55 comments (41 topical, 14 editorial, 0 hidden)
Umm.. (2.42 / 7) (#10)
by gblues on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 05:57:08 PM EST

Am I the only one bugged when an article gets through the queue without any comments? This is a discussion site, after all.

... although in retrospect, having sex to the news was probably doomed to fail from the get-go. --squinky
Re:Umm.. (4.20 / 5) (#14)
by truth versus death on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 06:18:11 PM EST

Change your 'View:' setting to 'All Comments' to view the various editorial comments posted during the submission process.

"any erection implies consent"-fae
[ Trim your Bush ]
[ Parent ]
Same thing here- (2.66 / 3) (#30)
by stfrn on Wed Oct 10, 2001 at 12:28:41 AM EST

at first i thought, what no editorial comments? then i noticed i was viewing mixed, not all comments. so apparently i got swicthed? must be a glitch in the matrix...

"Man, I'm going to bed. I can't even insult people properly tonight." - Imperfect
What would you recomend to someone who doesn't like SPAM?
[ Parent ]
Huh? (3.11 / 9) (#12)
by Elendale on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 06:11:13 PM EST

Now the ever-sketchy New York Post is reporting rumors of a third case and a possible lead in the investigation. Regardless of whether or not the Post article turns out to be true, these anthrax cases are clearly an act of either homicide or terrorism.

Wait... they're clearly an act of terrorism without proof? I admit it's rather suspicious, but two cases of anthrax does not a terrorist campaign make. Any clarifications?


When free speech is outlawed, only criminals will complain.

Not necessarily terrorism, but... (3.50 / 2) (#29)
by Kiscica on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 11:26:06 PM EST

Wait... they're clearly an act of terrorism without proof? I admit it's rather suspicious, but two cases of anthrax does not a terrorist campaign make. Any clarifications?

"Either homicide or terrorism". In other words, it is almost certainly a result of an intentional act. Anthrax spores just aren't typically found in newspaper office buildings, and since they aren't shed by people who have the disease, the spores found there are presumably the cause, not a result, of the first case's death. It isn't necessarily linked to the Osama bin Laden terrorist groups -- could be the act of some home-grown sicko. But you can't blame people for making the connection...


[ Parent ]
Home grown sickos (none / 0) (#45)
by ucblockhead on Wed Oct 10, 2001 at 12:11:28 PM EST

There is certainly precedent for that.
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]
Water contamination, etc. (none / 0) (#51)
by BlueGlass on Thu Oct 11, 2001 at 03:56:39 PM EST

Regarding contaminants in the water - it's not an impossible task, but it's more difficult than it might appear. Small towns are the most vulnerable, often having supplies that are drawn from a well, or from a small lake/river. But small towns are, from a terror perspective, not generally interesting targets. It's also harder to move anonymously in a small town.

Larger cities usually have several large reservoirs, and the water is usually assumed to have some bacterial contamination (from birds, rotting leaves, etc.). Consequently, there are usually filtration systems in place.

Additionally, most of the favored agents (anthrax, smallpox, etc) don't thrive in cold water, so while they may not be killed, they also won't multiply rapidly (not much food anyway). So a huge amount would need to be dumped to get an effective concentration, and that's assuming no purification process. Some of those aren't effective when ingested anyway.

Most reservoirs are large enough that most toxins, etc. would be greatly diluted, some removed by the filtration system, etc. Even botulism toxin, at 1ng/kg would need a lot. For example, one of Seattle's reservoirs (not that large by big-city standards) is, according to their site, 6.9 x 10E7 cubic meters. At 1000kg/m^3, that means 69kg, or 150lbs of pure botulism toxin. Of course it wouldn't disperse evenly, there's the various treatments/filtrations, etc., and so forth. Probably one would need a helluva lot more, particularly since it's would unlikely to be 100% pure. One quickly reaches the point where one needs to drive several trucks in, which (I hope!) would be noticed.

[ Parent ]

Water soluble? (4.00 / 7) (#13)
by adamhaun on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 06:12:50 PM EST

So what happens if someone puts a concentration of Anthrax into a municipal water supply? Is this a viable method of delivery?
-- Adam Haun No, you can't have my email
Maybe (3.83 / 6) (#15)
by shellac on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 06:55:45 PM EST

I suppose it could happen. I imagine it would have to be a good amount of anthrax so it wouldn't be too diluted as to be useless.

I would hope there are some safeguards around the water supply. Like some treatment and difficulty in accessibility to make this sort of thing difficult. After all there are a ton of things that can be tossed in the water, like cyanide.

Eeech, gastrointestinal anthrax is pretty nasty. Bloody diarrhea and vomiting and death in 2 to 5 days. It's never been seen in the US.


[ Parent ]
AFAIK, there's worse things than cyanide too... (4.00 / 1) (#46)
by Pakaran on Wed Oct 10, 2001 at 12:58:15 PM EST

I did a search on the web, and it seems that there are poisons that are lethal enough to be carried up to a reservoir and used to kill an entire city.

For example, according to this site, botulism toxin has a lethal dose of 1 ng/kg. Even if the average person weighs 90 kg, using that figure, and assuming that only 1/100 of all water in a reservoir is used for drinking, it would thus take 9 g to kill a city of a million people (or the majority of them). That is an amount that could be carried, and thrown into a reservoir, quite easily indeed; a large coin weighs more. The major issue would be whether the chlorine in water treatment would oxidize it, and how long it would take very many people in the city to realize something was wrong.

For that matter, I doubt it would be really easy for terrorists to make up botulism toxin in quantity, but for a group of 100 or more people with tens of millions of dollars, I doubt it would be impossible.

Is there anything at all we could do to stop that sort of threat?

[ Parent ]
CDC.gov article (4.20 / 5) (#16)
by J'raxis on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 06:58:13 PM EST

A possible scenario as outlined by the CDC. I think you are underexaggerating the ease and outcome of an attack as much as the mass media is overexaggerting it.

— The Raxis

[ J’raxis·Com | Liberty in your lifetime ]

Anthrax weaponization (4.50 / 4) (#21)
by sigwinch on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 08:33:24 PM EST

I think you are underexaggerating the ease and outcome of an attack as much as the mass media is overexaggerting it.
I agree. The Bioweaponeers states that the Russians succeeded in weaponizing anthrax in the form of an ultra-fine powder that could be easily dispersed over large areas, and that they also developed techniques for manufacturing tons of anthrax spores. Keep in mind that even if anthrax requires a large amount of spores to cause infection, the amount needed to kill 50 000 people is still very modest, and there are numerous locations where that many people pass through a small, confined space.

Regarding the story author's admonition that "A more worthy cause to worry about is the genetic engineering of biological weapons more powerful than anthrax." I would disagree. The biggest worry is an existing scourge: smallpox, caused by the variola virus, a virus that is highly transmissible. A well-financed and successful b. anthracis attack by guerrillas might cause 1 or 10 megadeaths in the US, but the infection would burn itself out and the nation would survive. It really wouldn't be worse than a limited nuclear exchange: horrible but survivable. On the other hand, variola major automatically transmits itself to almost everybody who comes in close contact with an infected individual for several days before they become highly symptomatic. A v. major outbreak could therefore be reliably started with a few nanograms of infectious material, and would be expected to cause tens of kilodeaths for a single well-contained infection center, up to a 150 megadeaths in the US for a wall-to-wall pandemic. (The 150 megadeath number assumes maximum quarantine measures and the culturing of vaccine on live human subjects. An uncontrolled pandemic would cause 250 megadeaths in the US.)

I don't want the world, I just want your half.
[ Parent ]

Smallpox weaponization (3.50 / 4) (#24)
by Estragon on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 10:30:30 PM EST

150 megadeaths? 250 megadeaths?? I think you're overestimating the impact of smallpox. Most Americans older than 30 were vaccinated against smallpox, which will cut the death toll considerably.

Of course, as time passes the danger will only increase. In 50 years smallpox could be this bad.

[ Parent ]

Vaccination effectiveness over time (3.66 / 3) (#25)
by sigwinch on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 10:56:55 PM EST

Most Americans older than 30 were vaccinated against smallpox, which will cut the death toll considerably.
This page at the CDC says "...older persons have little remaining residual immunity". I can't find a better cite at the moment, but that statement is consistent with the other information I've read on the subject. Unfortunately, smallpox really is that bad.

I don't want the world, I just want your half.
[ Parent ]

immunity may not be permanent (3.66 / 3) (#26)
by manray on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 10:57:42 PM EST

this from JAMA : In additon, the immune status of those who were vaccinated more than 27 years ago is not clear. The duration of immunity, based on the experience of naturally exposed susceptible persons, has never been satisfactorily measured. Neutralizing antibodies are reported to reflect levels of protection, although this has not been validated in the field. These antibodies have been shown to decline substantially during a 5- to 10-year period.24 Thus, even those who received the recommended single-dose vaccination as children do not have lifelong immunity. However, among a group who had been vaccinated at birth and at ages 8 and 18 years as part of a study, neutralizing antibody levels remained stable during a 30-year period.31 Because comparatively few persons today have been successfully vaccinated on more than 1 occasion, it must be assumed that the population at large is highly susceptible to infection.

Much less is known than not.

[ Parent ]

Smallpox simply is not that deadly. (4.80 / 5) (#27)
by ucblockhead on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 11:13:22 PM EST

First of all, there are only 267 million people in the US. "250 Megadeaths" means that 95% of the population is infected, and dies. No disease in history has ever had anywhere near that level of virulance. The closest is, indeed, a smallpox epidemic, but it was the epidemics that hit Native Americans, when the white settlers came (and possibly intentionally spread it), and it was so virulant because Native Americans had no natural genetic resistence.

It is especially a mistake to think an existing disease could produce that sort of virulance as most US citizens are descended from peoples who saw centuries of smallpox epidemics, and therefore have built up a bit of genetic resistence. For all epidemic diseases, each epidemic shows less virulance. This is why the smallpox epidemics that destroyed so many American Indian populations did not move into the white populations in any real way.

Your own link states that Smallpox kills only about 30% of those who get it, so even assuming that every single person in the US contracts the disease, your numbers are way off. But that is, of course, a bad assumption, because there are many very lo-tech and simple ways of keeping an epidemic from smallpox like spreading. Quarantines, burning blankets, etc. It seems unlikely to me to imagine any epidemic occurring that is larger than the influenza epidemic in the early part of this century.

This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]

Re: smallpox not that deadly (4.75 / 4) (#31)
by sigwinch on Wed Oct 10, 2001 at 01:08:54 AM EST

First of all, there are only 267 million people in the US.
The CIA World Factbook says 278 million.
"250 Megadeaths" means that 95% of the population is infected, and dies. No disease in history has ever had anywhere near that level of virulance.
I was assuming 90% for an optimized variety. Though even 30% is 83 megadeaths. And 30% corresponds to every third person dying, which is absolutely horrible.
It is especially a mistake to think an existing disease could produce that sort of virulance as most US citizens are descended from peoples who saw centuries of smallpox epidemics, and therefore have built up a bit of genetic resistence.
Unless, of course, the strain has been bred to maximize toxemia in the acute stage. Serial infection of 500 human subjects of European descent would provide 25 000 (wild guess) generations for the virus to evolve; 10 000 subjects, 500 000 generations. The USSR could probably have obtained that many subjects at the peak of its power. Tens of millions of viral generations are obtainable in cell culture, although it is rather difficult to apply meaningful selection pressure.
But that is, of course, a bad assumption, because there are many very lo-tech and simple ways of keeping an epidemic from smallpox like spreading.
It is also possible to breed the organism to have a very long incubation period and maximum infectivity. By the time the first wave becomes symptomatic, there could easily be tens of millions of people infected, especially if the attacker uses large quantities of aerosol in the population centers. Assuming a 1:15 transmission rate, the second wave would be hundreds of millions, which is sort of meaningless.

I'm not a professional: all these numbers are poorly educated guesses. The point is not that a particular precise number of people would be killed by a variola major attack, but that a significant fraction of the population would be.

I don't want the world, I just want your half.
[ Parent ]

Uh huh (4.00 / 1) (#43)
by ucblockhead on Wed Oct 10, 2001 at 11:16:05 AM EST

No one has yet demonstrated an "optimized" virus in the lab. That sort of genetic engineering is very, very tricky. Most genetically engineered life forms turn out to be very fragile when they hit the real world. This is because we as yet have only a very limited understanding of how the genome works.

This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]

How soon they forget! (none / 0) (#53)
by epepke on Fri Oct 12, 2001 at 01:23:48 PM EST

A lot of us pre-Gen-X-ers were innoculated against smallpox as a matter of course. I can remember when they stopped doing it and thought it was incredibly stupid to do so. We're not going anywhere. Oh, we might get a bit sick from a tweaked version, but we'll live. And some of the females have a decade of reproductive system left.

The truth may be out there, but lies are inside your head.--Terry Pratchett

[ Parent ]
Its the effect on US society at large... (none / 0) (#55)
by libertine on Fri Oct 12, 2001 at 06:32:55 PM EST

I think that it would be the effect on US society at large that would be the point of releasing smallpox, not the deaths. True, a 30% death rate is not that bad, but the disease itself will infect two classes of people- those who have not been immunized in over 30 years, and those who were never immunized. The remaining people, who were immunized in, say, the last 20 years is VERY small- mostly military, ex-military, and some CDC staff.

Even if the disease does not kill more than 30% of those two target groups that get infected, the infection of those groups alone would bring the US economy and much of day-to-day life to a screeching halt. Most of the people who are in charge of the corporations and distribution of cash are past their 50's- even if they had been in the military, their immunizations would not protect them from the disease- this group of people would also have a high death rate. There goes most of your decision making, and much of the cash.

The group of people who "make things run"- the cops, firefighters, ER physicians, technical staffers, construction workers, etc- those people mostly fall under the age limit for immunization as a civilian. These people would all get sick- though most would survive. Unfortunately, this group of people also makes up those with families and children still living in the home. Those people get infected as well, and many ofthe children will die. The "sick time" for this disease is two weeks- how many do you think have two weeks of sick leave + recovery time for each family member? Could most US communities stand to have most of them sick or recovering from illness or the deaths of their loved ones? Could the US stand to lose 30% of those people?

Quarantining would be effective, of course. Think about quarantining the NYSE. Or most large office buildings. Or movie theaters. Or supermarkets. The effects of the disease on individuals might be acceptable because of a potential 60% survivability rate, but the effects of the disease on US society would be very damaging.

Sometimes, I forget that the Al Qaeda is waging a cultural war, and not a territorial one. They hate US culture, and the organizations that back that culture. That is what they are targetting.

"Live for lust. Lust for life."
[ Parent ]

The most interesting thing to me... (3.00 / 3) (#19)
by anansi on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 07:38:07 PM EST

...Is that the building houses so many of the Midnight Star sort of supermarket tabloids. The very same sort of tabloids that might be expected to foster panic among the great unwashed american public.

I'm probably being paranoid, and I'm not going to hurl accustaions without evidence. Just... color me paranoid. When they put high-visibility military uniforms in national airports, and then withdraw them, I have to wonder if we're not being psychologically prepared for 'the next wave' of this quasi-war.

Don't call it Fascism. Use Musollini's term: "Corporatism"

Even scarier from a policy POV... (3.60 / 5) (#20)
by SvnLyrBrto on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 08:22:07 PM EST

Worse than the medical and psychological ramifications of the Florida anthrax outbreak is its effect on foreign policy.

As the author says, bioweapons don't just materialize out of thin air. And Florida *IS*, after all, where osama's henchmen were hanging out before they kamikazed New York.

And biological warfare agents are considered to be weapons of mass destruction.

US policy is, if attacked with a WOMD, to retaliate in kind; else deterrence breaks down and we may be attacked with impunity. And US policy makes no distinction between the three different kinds of weapons of mass destruction. An anthrax spore is the same thing as VX nerve gas is the same thing as an ICBM.

Now, if the government is to be beleived, we don't maintain large stocks of bioweapons ourselves, and our chemical stockpile is due to be destroyed (if the NIMBY crowd will ever let the facility that was built for that purpose go into operation that is).

That leaves just one kind of WOMD to fling back at whoever anthraxed Florida.


Imagine all the people...

Hmm (1.40 / 5) (#22)
by Desterado on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 09:06:52 PM EST

Been watching "The Rock" lately eh? VX Nerve gas is cool shit aint it.

You've got the flag, I've got your back.
[ Parent ]
Cute. (4.50 / 2) (#23)
by SvnLyrBrto on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 10:14:17 PM EST

Hate to burst your smug little bubble; but VX is real. It was invented by the British, no less, and traded to the US for the data necessary for Britan to build its own hydrogen bomb.

Its portreyal in The Rock is slightly exaggerated, but actually pretty close to reality, right dowm to the atropine injection into the heart if you breathe it in. (If you "only" get it on your skin or eyes, you "just" inject the atropine into your thigh)

Where The Rock got it wrong was the line about pouring a teaspoon onto the table being able to kill everyone in the room (a teaspoon would have been enough, but it would have to be aerosolized and breathed in... or everyone would have to stick their finger in the puddle on the table to have it absorb through the skin). The soldier who was exposed in the freezer would likely NOT have been exposed to enough aerosol VX to die, and there was no reason to lock him in the freezer. Also, VX does not melt your skin or eat through the environemnt suits as in the movie.

The convulsions, loss of reflexes, immense pain and rapid death are right on though.

So next time you're about to bash someone for citeing movie trivia as though it were fact, you might just check to see if the movie itself borrows from real life.


Imagine all the people...
[ Parent ]

Obligatory sig mock. (2.50 / 2) (#39)
by Kasreyn on Wed Oct 10, 2001 at 09:13:38 AM EST

If I were to remove the collective from your email, there'd be nothing between @ and .com!

Yes, this is the...


...time I've posted this without a response. Let's shoot for four! =P

Nothing to see here, move along.


"Extenuating circumstance to be mentioned on Judgement Day:
We never asked to be born in the first place."

R.I.P. Kurt. You will be missed.
[ Parent ]
WOMD Doctrine (4.00 / 1) (#35)
by Jacques Chester on Wed Oct 10, 2001 at 03:32:07 AM EST

Of course, that doctrine has always been based on the assumption that only hostile/terrorist states - iraq, iran, USSR in the day - would have the means and will to mount such an operation. There was a case to be made that it worked. But the doctrine breaks when dealing with individuals. How, exactly, do you define a nuclear response to an al-Qaeda biological attack? Tom Clancy bullshit notwithstanding.

Fact is that it is very, very difficult, nigh impossible. The better doctrine is to stop it from happening in the first place. It looks as though the USA is going to go Roman - diplomacy via force.

Mind you, if the Romans in the day had nukes, they would've used them on Carthage quick-smart. Easier than doing it person-by-person.

In a world where an Idea can get you killed, Thinking is the most dangerous act of all.
[ Parent ]

Connection to Sept 11 (3.00 / 2) (#36)
by drquick on Wed Oct 10, 2001 at 05:01:02 AM EST

I also think there *might* be a connection to Atta et al. But I dont think this thing in Florida was an attack. Possibly (*note* that I'm speculating) the terrorists used the mail office to send or receive anthrax for later attacks. Maybe a few spores leaked and infected a worker.

So, if it's not an attack, there is no grounds for retalliation. This would still count as an accident.

In case of a retalliation the US does not really need biological weapons. Massive access to convetional weapons should give just sufficient means to any terrible revenge. It just questionable how such a revenge could be distinguished from massive bombings of infrastructure that the USA does anyhow. 0.5-1 million children have died in Iraq. How can you now make understood that you retalliated? It might be seen as yet more casualities "worth it".

[ Parent ]

There we go again .... (3.00 / 2) (#38)
by Tezcatlipoca on Wed Oct 10, 2001 at 07:04:56 AM EST

Honest people, 2 people dead and already calls for nukes.

I am sorry but that is not proportionate response (in case it is probed this is terrorism, which is a big if at the moment).
"They only think of me as a Mexican,
an Indian or a Mafia don"
Mexican born actor Anthony Quinn on
[ Parent ]
Who called for nukes? (none / 0) (#47)
by SvnLyrBrto on Wed Oct 10, 2001 at 01:15:23 PM EST

Not me.

All I did is mention what US policy on weapons of mass destruction is and why it's scary from a policy POV asa opposed to a medical POV.


Imagine all the people...
[ Parent ]

I believe the act was terrorism in Florida (2.42 / 7) (#28)
by sexyblonde on Tue Oct 09, 2001 at 11:14:02 PM EST

They THINK that the Anthrax might of been mailed to the building where 2 co-workers came down with the Anthrax virus. A photo editor at the supermarket tabloid The Sun "who sadley died" and A mailroom employee in the same building who also tested positive for exposure to anthrax, but seems to be healthy at this time. 770 people who work in the same building or spend time in this building have been tested for the anthrax virus. This is pretty scarey. Makes me look at my mail in a very different way. If you get Anthrax is will kick your ass.

psychological warfare (4.00 / 3) (#32)
by mami on Wed Oct 10, 2001 at 01:12:29 AM EST

I can come up only with one reason, which would make me believe it could have been an attempt of a biological warfare attack. It is possible that Atta himself planned and executed it. Under that assumption the choice of the company and building chosen as a target would fit very much his psychological profile.

It is an attack on the tabloid media, I don't believe it was chosen haphazardly. It would or could represent Atta's wish to destroy a representative institution for the moral breakdown of Western culture. In a sense it is as much a "spiritual attack" on the "Western moral decay displayed daily to millions of Americans through their tabloids with regards to sexual mores and women" as the WTC attack was a spiritual attack on the "capitalistic superpower of the USA".

It was the first thought I had when I heard about the event and the thought still lingers around in my mind. So, let's see what comes out of the FBI investigation.

A better reason to chose a newspaper. (4.00 / 1) (#41)
by Brett Viren on Wed Oct 10, 2001 at 10:13:53 AM EST

I am still not convinced this is any terrorist attack, but the first thing I thought of when I heard of this was that a newspaper would be a good vector for a bio weapon. If there was a mechanism to spread the bio weapon on the papers as they are being printed it would be easily and widely distributed to its victims.

Turn page, lick finger, turn page, pick nose...

[ Parent ]

Don't say that (none / 0) (#50)
by mami on Thu Oct 11, 2001 at 08:25:29 AM EST

In Germany we have already multiple copy-cat threats of this sort. People will panic like crazy. Loose lips thinks more than ships...

[ Parent ]
X-Files (2.00 / 4) (#33)
by Blue Lightning on Wed Oct 10, 2001 at 03:20:18 AM EST

As a slight aside, some people might find it interesting that the 731 group was mentioned in an X-Files double episode (episodes "Nisei" and "731", together also known as "82517". Not sure, but I think it was series 3).

Why homicide or terrorism? (4.50 / 4) (#34)
by phliar on Wed Oct 10, 2001 at 03:26:26 AM EST

I don't understand this:
Anthrax is not readily contagious. The fact that two individuals working at the same place have tested positive for anthrax, and the fact that is was found on the computer of one individual indicates criminal activity.
I assume this should be "...the fact that it was found on..."? I am not any kind of medical sort; I am a mathematician and a hacker. (PhD in CS and math.)

Two cases from the same environment don't have to be foul play; it is definitely within the realm of statistical coincidence that if one person gets an airborne infection, then another in the same environment can get it too.

I read on the CDC page that it comes from animal products like hides, uncooked meat etc. Isn't it possible that spores from some object were inhaled by these two people?

Of course, it could be foul play also; but I think that as long as we're not in the realm of "ridiculously improbable" we shouldn't panic. Another case in a different building would be cause for worry, I'd think. (I wouldn't go by anything the Post said!)

(Why wouldn't terrorists use something with high fatality rates and very contagious, like smallpox? Smallpox cultures still exist, and I don't think anyone under the age of 30 has been inoculated...)

Faster, faster, until the thrill of...

ummm, sure (5.00 / 3) (#44)
by jayfoo2 on Wed Oct 10, 2001 at 11:16:18 AM EST

Two thoughts,

Yes two cases of anthrax could very well be possible if the people were exposed to the same infection vector. The only problem is that infection vectors for Anthrax are unlikely to be found in an office building naturally. Remeber that you can't catch Anthrax from another (live) person, unless potentially you eat him or her.

If they had for example dragged the hide or carcass of a diseased cow into the office that'd be one possibility. I haven't read that on the news and it doesn't seem to be the kind of thing that happens at my office.

If they had both been out to a pasture recently that might explain it too. One guy was a photographer so he might have been snapping two-headed calves for the Globe, but the other guy was from the mailroom.

In other words, it's just not too likely that these two guys would be exposed to Anthrax in their office naturally.

Please note this isn't just my opinon, the New York Times (a far sight more reliable than the Post) also printed about the same opinion yesterday.

In terms of Smallpox it only exists (officially) in two locations worldwide, One in the U.S. and one in Russia.

[ Parent ]
Topical Interview (4.00 / 1) (#40)
by truth versus death on Wed Oct 10, 2001 at 09:41:26 AM EST

The author of "Toxic Terror: Assessing Terrorist Use of Chemical and Biological Weapons" and "Scourge: The Once and Future Threat of Smallpox." talks about anthrax and smallpox.

MLP: Plague fears

"any erection implies consent"-fae
[ Trim your Bush ]
kinda OT, but still about anthrax (4.33 / 3) (#42)
by chopper on Wed Oct 10, 2001 at 10:25:08 AM EST

on a lighter note, Scott Ian of the band Anthrax has a quick interview in today's Washington Post here.

its kinda funny, actually. here's a blurb:

"It's as though it's 1937 and I'm a bandleader named Freddie Hitler. Maybe we should change the name now. A friend suggested 'Basket of Puppies.'"

give a man a fish,he'll eat for a day

give a man religion and he'll starve to death while praying for a fish

Big Pharma (3.00 / 3) (#48)
by valency on Wed Oct 10, 2001 at 05:46:48 PM EST

Has anybody else noticed that every single Anthrax story in the media has mentioned Cipro? "The deceased man's coworkers were all issued Cipro" ... "the military is using Cipro to protect troops from Anthrax" ... "Ciprofloxacin is the only FDA-approved medication for Anthrax inhalation"...

Perhaps I'm a bit of a conspiracy theorist, or perhaps I'm just channeling the spirit of Signal11 by playing to the (recently-acquired and quite irritating) anticorporate bias here on k5... but I wouldn't be surprised if a few unscrupulous marketeers were behind this.

I bet the pharmacies in Tijuana are having a field day with this one.

- a

If you disagree, and somebody has already posted the exact rebuttal that you would use: moderate, don't post.

BOOM BOOM BOOM (Hello?) (4.00 / 2) (#52)
by Signal 11 on Thu Oct 11, 2001 at 09:24:50 PM EST

channelling the spirit of Signal11 by playing to the (recently-acquired and quite irritating) anticorporate bias here on k5...


Society needs therapy. It's having
trouble accepting itself.
[ Parent ]

Of course, you're right! (none / 0) (#54)
by drquick on Fri Oct 12, 2001 at 03:15:21 PM EST

There's many more antibiotics that work on anthrax. It's just typical that some corporation "have it" with the government. So much business is about getting the deal and government (thus including pentagon) is the largest single customer there is in the USA. Even just a government recomendation... worth $$$! :-

[ Parent ]
Bacillus Anthracis, aka Anthrax | 55 comments (41 topical, 14 editorial, 0 hidden)
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