Friday, October 3, 2014

Ebola: Dangerous Deadly Virus, Yes; As a Bio-Weapon, Not So Much

Ebola Virus Under a Microscope


Major Update of the following story: 

Shame on the GOP and their right wing talking points and rabid pundits shame on them case in point from MSNBC here, in part:

The cure for Ebola can’t be found by pointing fingers, but that won’t stop some conservatives from playing the Obama blame game. From right-wing media pundits to certain lawmakers on Capitol Hill, the current epidemic that has so far claimed the lives of over 3,400 people is yet another opportunity for critics to jump on the president’s leadership and policies – Ebola-related, or not.

Examples:

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY):  Offered his “suspicion” that the disease is “a lot more transmissible” than the CDC has let on.

Steve Doocy, Fox and Friends co-host: When the CDC’s director, Dr. Tom Frieden, appeared on his that show, Doocy went so far as to question whether his analysis could be trusted given Frieden’s role in the Obama administration, saying in part:

“This is a political thing, but you’re part of the administration. The viewers feel that the administration had misled a lot of people on a lot of things. Why should we believe you when you’re telling us this stuff?” (I Note: Doocy has the ability to speak for FOX “viewers” – neat ability isn’t it?).

Laura Ingraham on her radio talk show: She raised similar alarms She asked listeners whether they believed what government officials were saying about the Ebola outbreak, given the country’s “biological incapability of telling the truth.” As evidence, she pointed to the Affordable Care Act (Obama-care), claiming that “none of” what the government said about its health care law was true.

Then the big mouth himself, Rush Limbaugh: He went after a different administration priority – developing more humane deportation practices – suggesting that the “Washington establishment/political class was making Ebola-related decisions based off its desire for amnesty,” which Limbaugh said “equals open borders.”

Then Limbaugh added: “Ebola, a killer virus, is political. We’re in the process of having it politicized. The left politicizes everything.  The Democrat Party politicizes everything.  Everything is politicized.” 

That last part coupled with the other parts, well… I still can’t stop laughing and you know the worst part: FOX viewers really to believe the crap they hear like that … and the blame game continues … I recommend the GOP adopt a new mascot/logo and make that their favorite animal: The Scapegoat



ORIGINAL POST FROM HERE:  I have been educating myself on Ebola and I have used three sources for this post (1) from CBS News; (2) from Vox.com; and, (3) from WHO (World Health Organization) (the editing is my own to fit this format).

Worst-case scenario: Could a terrorist group turn Ebola into a biological weapon and wipe out a huge number of the world’s population? The idea, almost like a movie script, is that Ebola could be used as a biological weapon, but it should be viewed with heavy skepticism. According to bio-terrorism experts, although deadly, Ebola is notoriously unstable when removed from a human or animal host, and capturing and turning it into weapon is very unlikely. 

An opposite view has been posited by Peter Walsh, a biological anthropologist at UK’s Cambridge University who says the world should be taking the threat of an Ebola weapon very seriously. He warns that terrorists could “harness the virus as a powder” for example, load it into a bomb, and then explode the bomb in a highly populated area (CBS Atlanta report).

Dr. Robert Leggiadro, a physician in NY who has a background in infectious disease and bioterrorism says that although Ebola is listed by the CDC as a possible bio-terrorism agent, that does not mean the virus could be used in a bomb, adding it would be difficult to weaponize.

Further, Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, SecureBio, a CBRN security firm in the UK says Walsh's claims are an example of fear-mongering, adding: “The chance of the Zaire strain of Ebola being made into a biological weapon is less than nil. It's just not going to happen.”

Experts like those point to three main reasons why Ebola isn't likely to be used as a bio-terrorism agent anytime in the near future.

1. Weaponization woes:  In order to make Ebola into a biological weapon, a terrorist organization would: (1) need to obtain a live host infected with the virus, either a human or an animal, and only a few animals serve as Ebola hosts, that include primates, bats, and forest antelope. None of these are particularly easy to detain; (2) after the host is captured, it would need to be transported to what de Bretton-Gordon called a suitably equipped laboratory (to extract the virus). NOTE: Such laboratories, known as Category 4 or Bio-safety level 4 Labs, are not easy to come by either (less than two dozen Category 4 laboratories  exist in the entire world (Federation of American Scientists), and failure to work inside one of these labs when handling the Ebola virus would likely result in the death of whoever is doing the weaponizing; (3) if a terrorist organization were able to obtain a host (listed above), gain access to a Category 4 Lab, then isolate the virus, they still would have a lot of work to do before they could use Ebola as a biological weapon. The process is complex and multi-staged.

It involves enrichment, refining, toughening, milling, and preparation. And, Ebola is not well suited to any of these process steps, which are designed to ensure that the biological agent survives the traumatic experience of being fired from a rocket, dropped from an aircraft, and submitted to harsh climatic conditions.  

2. Ebola virus is not hardy: There's a reason we haven’t heard about Ebola ever been used as a biological weapon in the past: it has not been, because Ebola, unlike other disease-causing agents, is not very hardy.  

“The reason anthrax has been the biological weapon of choice is not for its mortality rate -- when properly weaponized it is similar to Ebola-- but for the fact that it is exceptionally hardy.  Anthrax can and will survive for centuries in the ground, enduring frosts, extremes of temperature, wind, drought, and rain before re-emerging.”

In contrast to the hardiness of anthrax bacteria, the Ebola virus is sensitive to climactic conditions, like exposure to sunlight and extreme temperatures, and once the virus is removed from its host, it requires a very particular environment in which to survive, including relatively high temperatures, and humidity.

Assume a terrorist organization manages to capture a suitable Ebola host (listed above), are able to extract the virus, weaponize it, transport it to a populated city, and deliver the virus as a weapon, and then it is entirely likely that the sub-optimal climatic conditions of a Western city will kill it off relatively quickly.

3Slow transmission:  Many of the deadliest viruses and toxins that the CDC categorizes as possible bio-terrorism agents can spread from person-to-person through the air. These airborne toxins, such as anthrax or plague, could be released into the environment, through a dirty bomb or some other means, and could infect many people very quickly. [See 7 Devastating Infectious Diseases] However, that's not how Ebola works, since it is not airborne and it relies on transmission through the consumption of contaminated meat and direct contact with some infected bodily fluid.

The method of transmission makes Ebola less contagious than airborne viruses. Therefore, that also makes it easier to contain, provided strict protocols for containment are followed.  When the proper protocol is followed, Ebola is considerably less contagious than common viruses, such as measles or the flu.

Hope this helps you understand this virus; it did me. Thanks for stopping by.

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