The real pandemic threat: BioBombers
By Mark Alexander
The 24-hour news recyclers have lately devoted a lot of airtime to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa and concerns about its spread to the U.S.
In recent weeks, more than 1,300 Africans have been infected with the deadly virus, and most of them have died. There would likely not be much coverage of this regional epidemic if not for the fact that two "humanitarian workers" (read: heroic Christians), an American doctor and nurse, are infected with the virus and have been transported to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta for treatment.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has assured Americans that, while Ebola is deadly in each of its variant forms -- it is much like AIDS or HIV -- transmission requires substantial direct contact with an infected person. Of course, given that in the last three months the CDC's stellar status was tarnished by reports that its personnel were very careless with some deadly pathogens -- including anthrax, avian flu and smallpox -- it's understandable many Americans question CDC's assessment of the Ebola risk.
The fact is, CDC's risk assessment regarding the threat of an Ebola epidemic in the U.S. is correct. There is, however, right now, a very real pandemic threat posed by what we can call "BioBombers."
BioBombers are Islamist "martyrs" who, instead of strapping on a bomb and detonating themselves in a crowded urban area, become human hosts for virulent strains of deadly contagions. Once infected, they fly into the U.S. legally and park themselves in major airport hubs around the nation for days, where they can infect others traveling across country whose symptoms may take days to manifest -- which is to say others unknowingly become hosts and spread the virus to a much wider circle in their communities and work places.
For historical background, the greatest mortal threat to indigenous American populations when 15th- and 16th-century European explorers arrived was not from armed conflict with other native peoples; it was from European strains of diseases for which they had no immunity. The reverse was also true -- many Europeans suffered from American diseases.
In the 19th century, of the estimated 620,000 deaths recorded in the War Between the States, more than 430,000 died from "camp diseases." When soldiers and support personnel from different regions of the country congregated in camps, those who arrived with a virulent strain of influenza or other contagion quickly passed it on to others, and the consequences were devastating.
In the 20th century, there were 5.1 million combatant deaths in the four years of World War I, but the 1918 H1N1 influenza virus, commonly referred to as the "Spanish Flu," infected an estimated 500 million people globally, including even those in remote Pacific and Arctic regions. Indeed, as many as 75-100 million people died in that pandemic -- up to five percent of the world's population, in two years.
In World War II, disease in the Pacific campaign claimed far more casualties than combat.
So how have we avoided another devastating Spanish Flu pandemic?
We've learned how to restrain the spread of these diseases because of our notable early detection of outbreaks and well-rehearsed preventive measures to contain and isolate the infected. (Early detection and containment is critical when dealing with bacterial and viral infections.)
We have learned a lot from managing outbreaks. In 1976, a bacterial contagion called Legionnaires' disease claimed 29 victims in Philadelphia. More recently, a viral SARS outbreak killed 775 people in 37 countries, most of them in Asia. There have also been recurring concerns about "bird flu," which has been spreading worldwide since 2003 and claimed its first victim two years ago in Canada.
There are also inoculation programs that have helped eliminate the spread of disease, and treatment is much better now than it was in the early part of the 20th century.
But pathogens such as these are decimating if health care providers are slow to recognize the symptoms and correctly diagnose the disease. They can spread quickly if not properly reported to the CDC for entry into its early warning and response protocols. Fortunately, dangerous strains of H5N1 influenza and other flu viruses have not adapted, or mutated, into dramatically more virulent and deadly strains.
But there are plenty of artificially engineered bio-warfare viral strains that, if released into urban population centers, would overwhelm medical facilities and claim millions of casualties. The prospect of bio-terrorism, particularly a simultaneous attack across the nation from a cadre of BioBombers, would quickly overload health care service providers and exhaust pharmaceutical reserves. In the event of such an attack, the CDC's epidemic early warning detection map would not merely blink with one or two markers -- the entire board would light up, and the probability of containment would be lost.
In fact, the possibility of such an attack was the impetus last week for the largest bio-terrorism drill in New York City's history.
So, how real is the threat?
The primary symmetric deterrent to weapons of mass destruction in warfare between nation states is the doctrine of mutually assured destruction. But in asymmetric warfare, where Islamic martyrs serve as surrogates for states like Iran, the MAD doctrine is of little deterrence.
The prospect of another catastrophic attack on our homeland by asymmetric terrorist actors is greater now than it was in 2001, and the reason is as plain as it was predictable. But the impact of BioBombers on continuity of government and commerce will be far greater than 9/11.
In his first annual address to the nation in 1790, George Washington wrote, "To be prepared for war, is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace." The eternal truth of those words is plainly evident today.
Indeed, as our nation's erstwhile "community organizer" leads our nation's retreat from its post as the world's sole superpower, the inevitable consequences have been dramatic. Of greatest concern now is the resurgence of the enemies of Liberty, most notably al-Qa'ida jihadists in the wake of the Middle East meltdown (AKA, Arab Spring) in Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen and Jordan, and now the disintegration of Iraq and the conflagration in Gaza.
At present, all eyes are on the unabated rise of the nuclear Islamic Republic of Iran, a major benefactor of worldwide Islamic terror. Iran could eventually put a compact fissile weapon into the hands of Jihad surrogates with the intent of detonating that weapon in a U.S. urban center.
But the scope and consequences of a coordinated attack by Islamic BioBombers is far greater than that of a nuclear attack. The impact on continuity of government and commerce will be far greater than the 9/11 attack.
So if the threat of a catastrophic bio-terrorism attack has increased, and if the CDC and our homeland security apparatus are not properly prepared to respond to such an attack (the response to Hurricane Katrina comes to mind), then what can be done?
Fact is, there is a lot you can do to protect yourself and your family in the event of a biological attack on our nation with a little knowledge, preparation and not much expense -- and that preparation will also suffice for other types of emergencies.
The bedrock foundation of survival is individual preparedness and being prepared is not difficult. The primary means of protection in a pandemic is sheltering in place. But the Web is flooded with all kinds of preparedness and overwhelming advice from doomsday preppers. But I have prepared a one-stop reliable reference page with basic instructions and advice.
As a resource to communities across the nation, I convened a knowledgeable team of emergency preparedness and response experts in 2012, including federal, state and local emergency management professionals, and specialists from the fields of emergency medicine, urban and wilderness survival, academia, law enforcement and related private sector services. They compiled basic individual preparedness recommendations to sustain you and your family during a short-term crisis. The result is a Two Step Individual Readiness Plan that enables you to shelter in place in the event of a local, regional or national catastrophic event, including a pandemic.
The most likely scenario requiring you to shelter in place would be the short-term need to isolate yourself from chemical, biological or radiological contaminants released accidentally or intentionally into the environment. (This could require sheltering for 1-7 days.)
But in the event of a bio-terrorism attack setting into motion a pandemic or a panic, you must be prepared to isolate yourself and your family from other people in order not to contract an illness. The best location to shelter in place during such an event is in your residence, and the length of time required could be 1-6 weeks.
Mark Alexander is the executive editor of the Patriot Post.