Tags: Analysis: | U.S. | Unprepared | for | Bio-Attack

Analysis: U.S. Unprepared for Bio-Attack

Sunday, 10 November 2002 12:00 AM

President George W. Bush explains that it is "beyond dispute" that Iraq has used the last four years without weapons inspectors to expand its biological arsenal.

According to CIA Director George Tenet, "most elements" of Iraq's bio-weapons programs, including its arsenal of anthrax, botulism toxin and possibly smallpox, "are larger and more advanced than they were before the Gulf War."

Of utmost concern is the fact that, as the president explains, "Iraq could decide on any given day to provide a biological or chemical weapon to a terrorist group or individual terrorist."

A terrorist armed with a small hand-held aerosol could easily disperse 300 million smallpox viral particles within a confined area. Toxins could also be spread through contamination of food or water. Recent FBI security alerts focused on a heightened, though nonspecific, threat to U.S. food and water supplies. Many thousands could die in either scenario.

During either bioterrorist scenario, unless the toxin is immediately known, vaccines are irrelevant. Besides terrorists will likely use a cocktail of agents to confuse detection systems and a major attack will quickly overwhelm the hospital system making immediate help for most impossible.

The U.S. government is aware of the problem. Last year's "Dark Winter" bioterrorism exercise conducted by the Pentagon resulted in the rapid spread of smallpox to 26 states and the theoretical death of one million and incapacitation of two million others. The ensuing epidemic quickly overwhelmed the medical system and vaccinations were too late for many people.

Bioweapons have also been developed in other parts of the world. According to some estimates, the Soviet Union once had close to 30,000 technicians and scientists working on biological warfare research and development. After it collapsed in 1989, many of them put their skills on the market and at least five of them went to work for Saddam Hussein.

Dr. Ken Alibek, formerly Kanatjan Alibekov, author of "Biohazard: The Chilling True Story of the Largest Covert Biological Weapons Program in the World," was once deputy head of Biopreparat, the Soviet biological warfare institute. Alibek, a former army colonel, states that the Soviet Union developed untreatable, completely antibiotic- and vaccine-resistant forms of biological pathogens, including anthrax, tularemia and brucellosis.

Biopreparat also used sophisticated genetic engineering methods to make viruses more virulent and highly transmissible, Ailbek said.

It is not outside the realm of possibility that these lethal agents, and many more like them, may have fallen into the wrong hands, which may be one reason Bush has ordered a stockpile of smallpox vaccine, enough to inoculate every American, be assembled.

Of course, even the correct smallpox vaccine must be given within four days of exposure to be effective. But some bioterror weapons are so exotic that most hospital labs may be unable to identify the organism. There is also no guarantee hospital personnel will be able to identify the symptoms of infection.

That is why constant training for medical personnel must be part of the national anti-bioterrorism plan. The downside of vaccines is that they, too, can ruin one's health.

About 250 people out of one million people inoculated for smallpox can become seriously ill from the vaccine itself. Of those, one or two would die.

The U.S. military experienced similar problems following the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Service members received multiple vaccines before deploying to the Gulf. A large number of those soldiers suffered serious side effects, a fact only now receiving the grudging acknowledgment of Pentagon authorities.

Under the circumstances, the nation's best course of action to fight bioterrorism includes early detection, ready vaccines -- and good nutrition.

Dr. Russell Blaylock, a medical doctor and author of "Bioterrorism: How You Can Survive", contends that proper nutritional supplements and diet can boost the body's natural defense mechanisms providing significant protection against many bioterrorism agents though it is not a cure-all.

Blaylock points to the plague that ravaged Europe in the 14th century and killed up to 70 percent of those infected. "Greater death tolls were seen in areas experiencing famine and poor nutrition," he says, arguing overwhelming evidence exists showing poor nutrition increases the risk of infection.

He says there are 11 supplements that enhance immune function, including beta 1,3/1,6-glucan. He also recommends avoiding sugar, eating lots of vegetables, avoiding red meats, cutting out processed foods and drinking plenty of water. Smoking and alcoholic beverages should be avoided.

It is becoming increasingly clear that a bioterrorist attack could occur in the future. It may affect a few or could contaminate millions. The U.S. government will try to prevent the attacks through aggressive intelligence and pre-emptive law enforcement.

If they fail, vaccines will be available for some viruses and antibiotics will help fight bacteria weapons. Today, because of the nature of future warfare, one's health and one's security are deeply intertwined. Although not a panacea, supporting and enhancing one's immune system are important steps each citizen can take to fight back against the effects of biological attacks.

Copyright, United Press International

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President George W. Bush explains that it is beyond dispute that Iraq has used the last four years without weapons inspectors to expand its biological arsenal. According to CIA Director George Tenet, most elements of Iraq's bio-weapons programs, including its arsenal...
Sunday, 10 November 2002 12:00 AM
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