Thursday, October 07, 2004
This is why we must not become complacent. If it can be done once, it can be done multiple times.
Killer flu recreated in the lab
Scientists have shown that tiny changes to modern flu viruses could render them as deadly as the 1918 strain which killed millions.
A US team added two genes from a sample of the 1918 virus to a modern strain known to have no effect on mice.
Animals exposed to this composite were dying within days of symptoms similar to those found in human victims of the 1918 pandemic.
He said: "It is not a big difference at all between a virus that kills 15M people and one that does not kill anyone at all.
The 1918 "Spanish" flu pandemic is estimated to have infected up to one billion people - half the world's population at the time.
The virus killed more people than any other single outbreak of disease, surpassing even the Black Death of the Middle Ages.
Although it probably originated in the Far East, it was dubbed "Spanish" flu because the press in Spain - not being involved in World War I - were the first to report extensively on its impact.
The virus caused three waves of disease. The second of these, between September and December 1918, resulting in the heaviest loss of life.
It is thought that the virus may have played a role in ending World War I as soldiers were too sick to fight, and by that stage more men on both sides died of flu than were killed by weapons.
Although most people who were infected with the virus recovered within a week following bed rest, some died within 24 hours of infection.
In most fictional accounts of germ warfare, the nasty virus is something exotic -- Ebola or some other hemorrhagic fever virus mutated or modified to survive in colder climates. The bad thing about a killer flu virus is that it would not need any modification to survive in cooler climes.
The article notes that the work was done under "high security". That is of little comfort, however, given that the research could be performed by doctoral students in virology and genetics using equipment that has legitimate medical applications.
Am I worrying too much about this? Maybe. I hope I am. But when I think of my own family, my youngest daughter who has Down's syndrome and an already weak immune system; my father who has multiple complications from diabetes (he's had a total of over a dozen bypass surgeries, plus other heart and lung problems); my aging grandfather, who has severe lung problems (probably related to asbestos exposure); my aging grandmother, whose health has declined of late -- I think of these people and realize that they are particularly vulnerable to a "killer flu" virus.
Would such an epidemic destroy America? No, no more than crashing three airplanes into various buildings on September 11, 2001, brought down America. But that is not the goal of the Islamic fascists with whom we are dealing.
Killing as many infidels is one of their goals. I don't think they would hesitate to create and release such a bug if they believed it would (1) be untraceable; and (2) kill infidels, particularly Americans.
How hard would it be to infect several dedicated individuals, then send them off to places like London, Paris, Mexico City, New York, Tokyo, Adelaide, Berlin, Moscow, Beijing, etc.?
Given our border security, how hard would it be to send one group to Canada and one group to northern Mexico with instructions to cross the border into the United States in mid-November and make their way to shopping malls during the Christmas season?
Chilling to consider, and yet we ignore the risk at our peril.