CUBA: POSSIBLE THREAT TO THE NATIONAL SECURITY OF THE UNITED STATES THROUGH NON-CONVENTIONAL MILITARY METHODS
Anthrax is, as mentioned before, in conjunction with smallpox, the biological weapon most likely to be encountered. It is highly lethal; easy to produce in large quantities; relatively easy to develop as a weapon; easily spread in the air over a large area; easily stored; dangerous for a long time. All of these factors contribute to suspect that Cuba produces and store anthrax.
Anthrax is caused by the bacteria Bacillus Anthracis. Anthrax has been recognized as an illness for centuries. Anthrax still occurs in countries where animals are not vaccinated, mainly in Africa and Asia. It does occur infrequently in many other countries, including the United States.
When anthrax is used as a biological weapon, people become infected by breathing anthrax spores that are released into the air. Symptoms of inhalation anthrax can begin as early as 24 hours after breathing the spores. Initial symptoms include: fever, cough, weakness, and usually progress to breathing problems, shock, and death.
It is expected that anthrax spores will be disseminated by air, causing inhalation anthrax. Because atmospheric stability is important to efficient spread, and because sunlight, as previously mentioned, is highly toxic to biological agents, they are most likely to be delivered at night.
Particles from 1 to 5 microns in size are most efficient in causing infection, and can be present in clinically significant quantities more than 20 km. downwind. The inhaled infectious dose in man is quite high, estimated to be larger than 3,000 particles. The addition of detergents, irritants, or immuno-supressives to the aerosol may decrease the infective dose needed by up to 10-fold.
Inhalation anthrax, also known as Woolsorter's disease, is a biphasic illness. The first phase occurs when the spores are carried to the mediastinal lymph nodes by pulmonary macrophages and cause a suppurative infection with edema and hemorrhage.This phase is characterized by nonspecific flu-like symptoms; mild fever, malaise, fatigue, myalgia, nonproductive cough, and at times a sensation of chest oppression or pressure. Rhonchi may be heard with a stethoscope.
This phase can last for several days, or for as little as 24 hours in heavy infections, and can be followed by an asymptomatic period. The disease is treatable in this stage, but blood cultures are probably negative.
The second phase develops suddenly with the development of severe shortness of breath and cyanosis. Hypotension and shock can occur. Stridor may be present due to enlargement of the lymph nodes near the trachea. The second acute phase typically lasts less than 24 hours. Usually ends in death despite therapy, due to the high number of toxin-producing organisms present by this stage in the illness.
The standard therapy for inhalation anthrax is intravenous penicillin G by continuous infusion, 50 mg/kg in the first hour, followed by 200 mg/kg over the following 24 hours. In a biological warfare situation, it is recommended that vancomycin be a part of the regimen, in a dose of 500 mg every 6 hours.
As soon as in vitro susceptibility data are available, therapy should be adjusted to include effective drugs. However, since most probably in a biological warfare situation, communications and support services will degenerate to a point of complete chaos, in vitro data would not be available.
Recent tests with anthrax raise fears that U.S. vaccine can be defeated. The concern stems from recent evidence that Russia may have mixed together several strains of anthrax, presumably to enhance the lethality of its germ weapon. There is evidence also that Russian scientists have produced strains of anthrax genetically engineered to produce new toxins.
The vaccine works by disabling a component of anthrax known as protective antigen, which helps the microbe's two toxins penetrate the cells they are attacking. Anthrax is one of the most effective and lethal bioweapons in existence.
Smallpox is caused by a virus. The virus spread when an uninfected person comes in direct contact with a sick person and breath in the virus. After two weeks, the incubation period of the smallpox virus, the infected person develops high fever, muscle aches and pains.
After about three days of fever the person breaks out in a rash all over the body. At first it looks like red spots, and the spots gradually become blisters about the size of a pencil eraser. After about five days of rash, the fluid in the clear blisters turns to pus. The more pus spots that a person has, the more likely the person will die.
There are two main types of smallpox virus: variola major, which kills about 25% of the people infected, and variola minor, which kills about 5%.of its victims. In 1965, the world Health Organization began a world-wide effort to eradicate smallpox. Studies by epidemiologists showed that the disease could be stopped from spreading if the people who came in contact with infected persons were all vaccinated.
The disease was completely eradicated from the earth by 1977. Today, the smallpox virus exists only in two freezers, one in Moscow, Russia, and the other in Atlanta, Georgia, United States.
There is evidence that certain countries may have harvested smallpox for use in weapons, threatening to revive a plague for which vaccines are no longer produced. Ironically, the danger smallpox would pose to a targeted population stems in part from the success medical science has enjoyed in battling the virus.
Smallpox is unlike anthrax in that it is highly contagious but can be handled with impunity by those who are immunized against it. Yet with smallpox no longer recognized as a threat to human health, inoculations in the United States and most other countries have all but stopped. Military translation: the world's population is extremely vulnerable.
The Pentagon has a program under way to develop a new vaccine, but its testing and development is projected to take until 2003. New intelligence assessment on countries doing research and development on the smallpox virus-Russia, Iraq, North Korea, Cuba- could end up accelerating the Pentagon's program.
Actual vaccine requires periodic boosters and wears out after ten years, though revaccination is required after three years in case of infection. Outside of the lab, variola virus thrives only in the human body.
A virus's effectiveness as a weapon can be measured by its mortality rate, which reflects the number of people to contract the disease after exposure. Smallpox kills between 35 to 55% of unvaccinated persons, but its morbidity rate ranges from 70 to 90 percent. Those who do not die, can be permanently blinded. Others will bear scars as long as they live.
Smallpox, unlike anthrax, requires no concentration process. It is, like anthrax, one of the most effective and lethal bioweapons in existence.
Botulinum Toxin (Bot Tox)It is the most toxic substance in the world. C. botulinum can be isolated from its natural habitat, the soil. It grows rapidly on common bacterial media. The conditions for achieving optimum toxin production have been well researched in Cuba. Cuba has the capacity to produce several grams in one day.
Box tox is relatively stable, and can be stored in crystalline form. It can be absorbed through the mucous membranes, so aerosol dispersal is a likely way to be used. It can also be added to a municipal water or food supplies. Box tox is tasteless and odorless. Depending on the dosage, symptoms appear between 2 to 14 days. The symptoms include double vision, difficulty in swallowing and speaking, vomiting, and eventually respiratory failure.
The protein is a neurotoxin and once the symptoms appear, the damage is irreversible. The only treatment involves passive antibody shots against the strains. The known disadvantages are that box tox is unstable in the air if exposed to sunlight and dry conditions. Box tox can also be destroyed by brief boiling.
Ricin is a protein toxin extracted from the castor bean plant. Ricin kills by destroying an important component of the protein synthesizing machinery of cells, the ribosome. It works as a slow poison, eventually causing a total body collapse as necessary proteins are not replaced.
Ricin can be used to specifically target an enemy. An agent could be specific enough to use this procedure to target a single individual for assassination. There are not effective treatment once the ricin has produced clinical symptoms.
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