Ebola questions?

g1687jkarh at umbsky.cc.umb.edu g1687jkarh at umbsky.cc.umb.edu
Thu Aug 31 10:23:14 EST 1995

In Article <DE4vnC.D8H at ns1.nodak.edu>
joehanso at badlands.NoDak.edu (Joehanso) writes:

>	I got to admit that I am not a virologist or anything and my only 
>training about virus diseases came from a NBC class in that Marines.  I 
>guess what I'd like some more information about is the following:

     Interesting. BW is really nasty. For one thing, inherently all research
even strictly defensive research is offensive. A defense against ones own
weapons is something an attacker would want. Treaties are totally meaningless,
as any Native American knows. Who's to say that a Russian or British signing
is any more meaningful than an American one. BW's greatest asset (other than
that it is VERY cheap) is it's deniability. But this is what makes it so scary.
Once the BW genie is out of the bottle, all epidemics become suspect as it is
impossible to prove an attack. Imagine how Miami would respond if it had
a major earthquake soon after the Cubans announce the ability to secretly
cause earthquakes. 

>1.	I know that most of the time when a mutation occurs, the virus i 
>more or less degenerated into someting less harmful or requiring a vector 
>that is harder to come into contact with.  Is it possible that something 
>like Ebola could become an airborne vector with time?

     Mutation often leads to less virulent or more defective virus. The
probability of Ebola becoming easily transmitted airborne (through sneezes,
not from bombs or spray tanks) is unknown, and the data on airborne
transmission in monkeys is quite poor and ambiguous. Was airborne spread of 
Ebola Reston among monkeys "natural" (as in airborne influenza) or was it 
due to aerosolization of pathogenic material with high pressure water hoses
used to clean cages? In other words, is Ebola naturally spread through coughs 
and sneezes? Is it airborne transmissible at all (and therefore in a natural
epidemic would be selected for transmissability) or not.  
     Remember there's a difference from being able to infect lungs (from a
biological attack aerosol) and being airborne transmissable (able to leave
through the lungs or be shed in epidermis, etc.)
     With regards to vectors, Imagine it is a monkey virus. It could easily
mutate in such a way to infect humans. However a monkey body would select 
against these mutants, while a human would select for them (maybe kissing
dogs isn't such a good idea after all).  

>2.	Ebola from what I've heard is along the lines of hemoragic 
>fever.  What are other types of diseases that produce the same symptoms 
>and are there any cures or vaccines.

     If I remember right, there are no really good vaccines for any
hemorrhagic fever (Junin, Marburg, Machupu, Crimean-Congo,....). In the case
of Ebola or Dengue, it appears that exposure to one strain makes infection with
another strain WORSE.  

>3.	Given the information I heard about genetic splicing, is it 
>possible for some nut-case to transfer the Ebola virus into something 
>like a flu virus for NBC warfare?  Not necessarily a US project, but 
>something a rouge government might try.

     Genetic engineered viruses are the poor man's atomic bomb. For the cost
of a Humvee and a few M-16's one could develop some really frightening weapons. 
Many constructs might not be genetically stable (parts don't fit together too
good) but assuming stability, it would be easy enough to put a "virulence
factor" in some virus or bacterium (less problem with bacteria as genome need
not fit or adhere to a capsid). A poor nation could use a well regulated 
virulence factor to repel invasion by a superior (militarily and economically)
power. For instance, if threatened by invasion by Russia, Mozambique could 
develop a well regulated ogranism harmless to the people of Mozambique but
extremely lethal to Russians. Mozambiques people would be too infectious to
be worth conquering, the Russian army would be silently infected, and returning
troops could return the virus to the homeland where potential draftees, makers
of war materiel, transporters of above etc. would be eliminated. A rogue 
government, doomsday cult, or someone pissed off at the whole world could 
easily create a new virus or bacterium and wreak havok. In any case, the
incident would appear as a natural disaster. For example, if some Russian 
wanders through some rain forest in Mozambique and catches something, well
what did you expect. Maybe Russians are genetically different and due to no
prior contact, have not been selected for immunity. One scientist (Wassermann)
suggested that dark skin, like that in Mozambique, arose as a secondary
consequence of selection for immunity to disease so an event like this would
just increase the likelyhood of Wassermann getting more grants (assumed South
Africa maintained a strict quarantine against people from Mozambique and Russia
and all their collective allies, enemies, and trading partners). 
     Some natural disasters are man made. If someone in some jail, refugee
camp, or city under seige gets sick it would be perfectly natural if the
disease spread outside, totally out of control. It happened in 1346. When the
Tartars catapulted (or trebucheted?) plague victims into Caffa, and the 
people of Caffa fled, they spread the disease to Italy (10 of 1000 lived long
enough to reach Italy even in the crowded interior of a boat), from where it 
spread to Greece, Spain, Egypt, Nubia, Ethiopia, and Britain. Well, one could
develop a plan to nuke every jail, refugee camp, and city under seige at the
first sign of trouble (maybe a megaton per hectare), or just get used to the 
fact that these things happen (and hope nobody with a weakened immune system 
inhabits one of these disease reactors). Expect things to be quite a bit less
pleasant than 1346 next time due to increased travel and increased poverty. 


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