Biological warfare concerns cautious nation

By Heather DiLalla
October 24, 2002

Since the of events Sept. 11 and the anthrax scare, many people are fearful of another catastrophe. Government officials are predicting the possibility of biological warfare, in the form of smallpox.

Smallpox is a highly contagious disease that has the potential to spread rapidly. It is possible that an entire smallpox epidemic could begin as a result of one individual. The virus can be released into the air when an infected person coughs, sneezes or simply talks.

At the moment, the United States has enough vaccine to vaccinate the entire American population. They are warning the public about the possible side effects of the vaccine, which include brain damage or inflammation, painful sores and scars and in some cases, death. In the event of an outbreak, only those in close contact with infected people would be urged to receive a vaccine. People with allergies, those on medication for HIV, heart transplant recipients and others receiving certain medicines are warned not to take the vaccine for fear of severe and immediate complications.Not only that, there is a slight chance the vaccine will not prevent one from the disease.

“No vaccine is 100 percent, so even if you get the shot, it is not a guarantee that you are safe from smallpox or any other disease for that matter,” Doctor of Osteopathy at Cabrini College, Madeline Danny said.

There is no cure for the disease. Once a person has it, the disease overcomes the body in boil or lesion forms that itch and cause extreme irritation. Often times the pus that comes out of the lesions cause one to go blind. It is from the secretion of the lesions that spread to the hands, which then end up near the eyes. There are three forms of the virus: malignant, typical and hemorrhagic. The malignant and hemorrhagic forms are very lethal. In fact, 90 percent of the time people are infected with these forms, the result is fatality. Whereas typical smallpox has a 30 percent chance of casualties.

“I think doctors need to be aware that there are three forms of the virus and they present themselves in different ways clinically. Doctors need that type of training because it is a possibility that the virus will be released,” Dr. Sherry Fuller-Espie, chair of the science department, said.

The virus was discontinued in 1972 because children were no longer threatened by smallpox. The abundant amount of people still getting shots each year were suffering horrible reactions and many were dying of complication. No one on earth has contracted smallpox since 1977.

The Variola virus, which causes smallpox, is still alive today even though no one on earth has been infected with the disease in nearly 25 years. The Soviet government had secret labs containing a biological program for the use of weapons. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, it is possible the stocks fell into the possession of other countries because the contents were never fully accounted for. The old question has recently been brought to our attention once again, could terrorists hit us with smallpox?

“If you would have asked me this a couple of months ago, I would have said no, but I am thinking more and more now that something like this could happen, maybe not in the United States but somewhere around us,” Danny said.

“People should not get really nervous about this. The likelihood of this coming to Cabrini is so slim, so remote. A lot of it is about education, knowing what to look for ahead of time, and acting promptly,” Fuller-Espie said.

There are some ways to feel safe from the constant thought of an attack. One way is to go about a normal routine, but remain alert to the surroundings. Also, if a person feels the need to get vaccinated, there are doctors who are willing and able to give them. Most people believe the most effective way is to remain calm and well informed.

“I have been reading up on the latest information provided about smallpox and other diseases that could be used at biological warfare and I feel better I know something. I think the best precaution a person can take would be to stay educated, and to know what you can do if something terrible does happen,” junior Alissa Smith said.

“I think we need to be cautious about everything we do, whether it is sharing a water bottle or eating from someone else’s fork, because you never know. It is not only good to do for small pox and terrorists but for ourselves because you can spread the flu, meningitis and any other diseases through secretion,” Danny said.

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Heather DiLalla

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