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Old October 10th, 2001, 09:40
sysadmin sysadmin is offline
Join Date: 2001
Posts: 1,085
Smallpox terrorist risk

Reprinted from

Smallpox Is Ideal Weapon

Col. Byron Weeks, M.D., ret.
Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2001

The author, Dr. Weeks, served with the U.S. Air Force Medical Corps and was hospital commander at Bitburg Air Force Base. He is a lecturer on infectious diseases and biological warfare.

There has been intensive covert research in many countries, in an attempt to produce modifications in disease-producing viruses.

Russia and Iraq have been at the forefront of these researches.

There have emerged several major threats to mankind in the form of lethal viruses and bacteria.

Among these are smallpox (variola), hemorrhagic viruses such as Ebola, and the encephalitis viruses.

Ebola is extremely susceptible to sunlight, heat and drying. It is difficult to handle and deliver while still viable and infectious.

Nonetheless, it is highly lethal and effective in large enclosed spaces such as auditoriums and, probably, stadiums.

Most of the encephalitides are primarily mosquito- or insect-borne.

The ideal bioweapon should be highly lethal, hardy, easy to culture and not too complicated to deliver to the intended victim population.

Most of the weaponized viruses are difficult to deliver because they are fragile and especially vulnerable to exposure to air, sunlight, dryness and heat.

Russia is the principal nation conducting research on the nuclear polyhedrosis virus, an insect virus that secretes a protective protein crystalline coat around itself that renders the organism resistant to ambient effects of heat, cold and sunlight and also increases viability.

According to Dr. Ken Alibek, former head of the Bioweapons Program for the Soviets, during the 1980s and 1990s the Russian Biopreparat experimented with the insertion of smallpox genes into the polyhedrosis virus, and may have succeeded in producing an even more hardy killer virus.

I consider variola smallpox to be a likely biological weapon to be used against the United States, because those previously vaccinated have largely lost immunity.

Even in its original form, smallpox may be the ideal killer virus because it is readily cultured, highly contagious, and relatively resistant to environmental changes.

After a laydown from aircraft using aerosol suspension it will usually survive long enough in the aerosolized mist to be carried on the wind to reach, and eventually kill, a high percentage of human hosts. The airborne droplets are small (1-5 microns) and remain suspended long enough to spread over a 50-mile-wide area.

Smallpox: The Disease

Signs and Symptoms: Clinical manifestations begin acutely with malaise, fever, rigors, vomiting, headache, and backache. Two to three days later lesions appear, first on the face and arms, then later on the legs, quickly progressing from macules to papules (red spots) and eventually to pustular vesicles (blisters). They are more abundant on the upper extremities and face.

Diagnosis: Neither electron nor light microscopy are capable of discriminating variola from vaccinia, monkeypox or cowpox. The new PCR diagnostic techniques may be more accurate in discriminating between variola and other Orthopoxviruses.

Treatment: At present there is no effective chemotherapy, and treatment of clinical cases remains supportive.

Prophylaxis (Prevention): Immediate vaccination or revaccination should be undertaken for all personnel exposed.

Isolation and Decontamination: Droplet and airborne precautions for a minimum of 17 days following exposure for all contacts. Patients should be considered infectious until all scabs separate, and they quarantined during this period.

In the civilian setting, strict quarantine of asymptomatic contacts may prove to be impractical and impossible to enforce. A reasonable alternative would be to require contacts to check their temperatures daily and to remain at home. All bed linens and objects in contact with the infected person should be handled carefully [latex gloves, surgical masks] so as not to spread the virus. Disinfection of clothing, dishes and utensils with hypochlorite [bleach] should be carefully performed.

Any fever above 38 degrees C (101 F) during the 17-day period following exposure to a confirmed case would suggest the development of smallpox. The contact should then be isolated immediately, preferably at home, until smallpox is either confirmed or ruled out, and remain in isolation until all scabs separate.

Although the fully developed cutaneous eruption of smallpox is unique, earlier stages of the rash could be mistaken for varicella (chicken pox). The smallpox blisters tend to all be at the same stage and size, whereas in chickenpox they are in different sizes and stages.

Secondary spread of infection constitutes a nosocomial hazard [spread by medical personnel in the hospital] from the time of onset of a smallpox patient's exanthem [rash] until scabs have separated. Quarantine with respiratory isolation should be applied to secondary contacts for 17 days post-exposure. Vaccinia vaccination, with the attenuated [weakened] virus early in the disease, and vaccinia immune globulin both possess some efficacy in post-exposure prophylaxis.


1. USAMRIID Manual of Biological Warfare.

2. "Biohazard," Dr. Ken Alibek, former Deputy Commander of the Soviet Biopreparat for Research on Biological Weapons.

reprinted with permission of
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