Anthrax: Making Biological Terror Fun

This nasty disease can be used as cheap biological warfare, yet government has little concern to completely prevent its use.

CULTURE, 04/20/98: MODERN LIFE Remember the Gang of Four song that went "Love will get you like a case of anthrax and that's one thing I don't want to catch"? I've been humming it to myself since I read in Maclean's (yes, that's right- the people who swallowed whole the now exposed as fraudulent footage of Iraqi soldiers invading and terrorizing Kuwait, admittedly not the best source for accurate reporting) that a 1994 group of UN arms inspectors who went to an Iraqi plant suspected of producing biological weapons found anthrax. Anthrax? Whatcha gonna do? Kill our cows?

Anthrax (Bacillus Anthracis) is a zoonotic disease which means we catch it from animals and not other humans- primarily cows, but also from sheep, goats, pigs and horses. There are three modes of animal to human transmission: through a cut in the skin (cutaneous), ingested in infected meat, or inhaled (pulmonary). Once inside the spores multiply and in about a week produce enough toxins to injure surrounding cells and tissue. In animals it is an ugly death accompanied by gruesome convulsions and spasms. In humans cutaneous anthrax is disgusting but very rarely fatal. It produces a rash of reddish brown sores, also known as the external ulcerating nodules - yikes, which turn black and break open before scabbing over. This is accompanied by internal bleeding, muscle pain, headache, nausea, fatigue, fever and vomiting. Pulmonary anthrax is rare but if left untreated will at least be the last disease you'll ever need endure. Initial flu-like symptoms are followed by a high fever, breathing distress, blood infections, bluish skin (cyanosis), pneumonia and death.

It is the pulmonary form of anthrax that attracts the attention of those interested in biological warfare. In countries that practice modern animal husbandry and industrial hygiene the risk of contracting anthrax is minimal, usually limited to those who work with infected animals and their hides. As seen in the 1957 infection of nine employees of a goat hair processing plant who became ill after handling a contaminated shipment. Of the five who contracted the pulmonary form, four died. In 1979 in Sverdlovsk USSR (the same city that the Ottawa Senator player is from - the one who donated a million bucks to art) 77 people were infected with anthrax and 66 of them died. At the time Soviet officials claimed they were infected by diseased animals but epidemiological evidence proved otherwise. It showed that most victims lived or worked within a narrow zone extending from the military facility in the north to the city limits in the south which paralleled the wind patterns registered around the time of the outbreak.

Something to keep in mind when looking for your home sweet home, where is the nearest military microbiology lab. The U.S. defense department estimates that 50% of the people who inhale anthrax spores will die. It is this efficiency that makes pulmonary anthrax a perfect candidate for biological warfare and I haven't even mentioned how cheap it is. It takes about 5 litres to wipe out a population the size of Toronto and for a couple of extra bucks say good-bye to the suburbs. All that is needed for dispersal is an aerosol type container and a stiff wind. There is a vaccine but it is experimental and does have its drawbacks - side effects, and uncertainty regarding its efficiency. The last Gulf War saw 150,000 of 200,000 troops vaccinated. Afterwards many of those people came down with a combination of symptoms and illnesses known as Gulf War Syndrome which some link to the series of experimental vaccines and bug repellents they were exposed to.

Also, the Canadian and U.S militaries have been criticized for their insistent pursuit of a vaccine as it implies that they are looking to protect their troops thus allowing the employment of anthrax in conflicts with so called hostile populations. See also the recent case of a Canadian soldier out of Winnipeg who is facing military court martial for his refusal to be vaccinated against anthrax (his legal right by the way). Having already had a serious adverse reaction to some other drug he was injected with in Bosnia he is understandably hesitant to be injected with another experimental drug. As he has questioned, when does being a soldier end and acting as a guinea pig start. At this point the only way to protect yourself against anthrax as a biological weapon is to avoid breathing, better start practicing.

I can already see the anthrax ad copy: Got a lot of people to kill but not much cash? Looking for a way to stretch your terror and domination dollar? Let our trained friendly staff at Biological Weapons R Us show you the benefits of anthrax. Cheap, easy to disperse and with a kill rate of 50% anthrax is the best friend a despot bent on world domination ever had! And we mean that in the nicest way.

email MARNIE

speak your mind
in the BOARDS