Anthrax Woes

Recently in the United States, letters laced with Anthrax have been sent to selected government offices and news media representatives, resulting in more than a dozen actual cases, a few deaths and a lot of worried people.

Anthrax is not a man made concoction. It is a disease caused by spore forming bacteria that starts naturally in the soil and then generally infects livestock herded in that area. It is transmitted by the air, through ingestion (eating tainted items) or via cuts in the skin. It is found naturally throughout the world, although largely the underdeveloped nations of the world is found to a larger degree. Once a human or animal is infected death is almost assured without proper treatment and medications.

The only way for humans to contract natural Anthrax would be to either eat the flesh of an infected animal or coming in physical contact with them and by generally rolling around in the dirt where Anthrax is located.

According to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), scientists around the world have investigated the use of naturally found bacteria and viruses since almost the start of the 20th century, for the purposes of biological warfare (chemical warfare, a similar but different type of weapon, was used in the first World War - mustard and chlorine gasses) and Anthrax has been found to be quite effective as such an agent.

The research, manufacture and use of such a weapon of this has been banned by international treaties or conventions, but at least 17 nations are believed to have active bio-weapons programs, including Iraq who has, according to JAMA, acknowledged producing and weaponizing Anthrax.

While ingested or intra-blood stream Anthrax seems to be more detectable, easier to control and cure, inhaled Anthrax has the highest instance of death among humans - which is how it is believed that most of the U.S. citizens who have died from Anthrax were infected.

At this point in time the chances of the average citizen contracting Anthrax via the mail is minimal - you actually have to handle the actual power, breath it in or come in contact with the envelop containing Anthrax - and there is a lot of anxiety around the nation about contracting this disease.

There are also, apparently, a lot of sick pranksters who are make Anthrax practical jokes by putting sugar, powered coffee creamer or talcum power on desks, work areas and in letters. Most of these people have been discovered and are facing strong legal measures.

It is also unclear if the Anthrax mailings are related to the events in Afghanistan - there is a strong believe the Bin Laden and the Taliban have obtained or at least trained in the use of bio-weapons, but it is unclear if they actually have them or are behind the current events.

The process of making simple Anthrax, such as the powder used to lace these letters, is within the grasp of anyone with a graduate degree with a strong bio-chemistry background. The far more lethal and advanced Anthrax, such as the aerosols, however terrorist groups in Tokyo have been known to have and used aerosol Anthrax on at least 8 occasions, but with no sickness or deaths as a result. However around 1978 in Russia aerosol Anthrax was accidentally released from a military microbiology lab resulting in 73 people exposed and 68 deaths (which may account for a large portion of the Anthrax deaths world wide, although a lot more people contracted the disease).

From naturally occurring Anthrax in Iran one million sheep died as a result of the disease. In Africa around 1980 10,000 humans contracted Anthrax.

In the United States, which normally sees about 10% of the reported cases world wide (which has been 245 out of 2,000 between 1945 and 1994) most are of the blood stream infection type (caused by handling Anthrax with skin having cuts - which often happens to workers dealing with goat and lamb skins) and only 18 inhalation cases (again, occurring predominately to people working with raw wool at manufacturing plants).

In fairly recent times U.S. citizens (often categorized as “white extremists”) have been caught with bio-weapons materials, such as Anthrax, in populated areas of United States.

In view of how easy it is to obtain any form of Anthrax, the mindset of some people - including U.S. citizen - we are obviously going to have to take a wait and see attitude before assessing blame on these recent attacks, and they are, of course, intentional attacks.

While the concept of bio-weapons does bother me, especially when I read what the American Medical Association had to say about the release of mass quantities of aerosol Anthrax (which, with good wind conditions, would have the killing power of a hydrogen bomb if released near a city) is very frightening - of course the ability to make this grade of weapon is not easily within the grasp of the Taliban nor any U.S. hate groups (but is within the reach of a country like Iraq). It is the fact, however, that naturally occurring Anthrax is in epidemic proportions in half the world (largely parts of South America, Africa and the Middle East) that is even more frightening. In fact, it is in super epidemic proportions in parts of the Middle East (which explains why Iraq can develop it so easily, you need only scoop up some of their soil and process it in a lab). Finally, Anthrax is found sporadically throughout the rest of the world (only the extremely isolated and northern most regions, such as Alaska and Greenland are virtually Anthrax free - the bug must not like the cold) and that naturally found Anthrax is the cause of some industrial accidents here in America among factory workers dealing with sheep and goats! I find this to be the most horrific aspect of the whole Anthrax mess that faces us...!

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