Monday, October 03, 2005

Tularemia On The Mall

According to an article, which appeared in the October 2, 2005 edition of the Washington Post, the presence of tularemia in Washington, D.C., probably has a natural explanation:

Health Officials Vigilant for Illness After Sensors Detect Bacteria on Mall
Agent Found as Protests Drew Thousands of Visitors

"A week after six bioterrorism sensors detected the presence of a dangerous bacterium on the Mall, health officials said there are no reports that any of the thousands of people in the nation's capital Sept. 24 have tularemia, the illness that results from exposure to the bacteria.

"Federal health officials are still testing the samples from air sensors on the Mall and in downtown Washington that collected a small amount of the tularemia agent, which can cause flulike symptoms and is usually treated with antibiotics.

'The bacteria probably was not the result of nefarious activity, according to federal investigators. 'There is no known nexus to terror or criminal behavior. We believe this to be environmental,' said Russ Knocke, spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security.

"The mission for health officials now is to figure out how the bacteria got there, why they were detected that day and whether they are from a strain that doesn't affect humans....

"Health officials in the Washington area were notified Friday that the filters on biohazard sensors that make up the BioWatch network detected the bacteria Sept. 24, when tens of thousands of people were on the Mall for antiwar demonstrations and the National Book Festival.

"The samples were collected between 10 a.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. Sunday. The naturally-occurring biological agent -- which is on the 'A list' of the Department of Homeland Security's biohazards, along with anthrax, plague and smallpox -- was detected in small amounts, said Gregg A. Pane of the D.C. Department of Health.

"Detection of the bacteria turned into an incident with nationwide implications, because thousands of protesters had come from throughout the country. The infection is not spread from person to person, but tracking potential patients became a coast-to-coast undertaking. Police said that more than 100,000 people attended the rally; organizers put the figure at 300,000.

"After the filters were tested in Washington, further tests were done by CDC laboratories in Atlanta, Knocke said.

"Meanwhile, the CDC was using its nationwide tracking system to look for unusual occurrences of pneumonia-like symptoms in every state, Roebuck said....

"[O]ne theory is that tularemia bacteria, which occur naturally in soil, might have been kicked up by the thousands of feet stomping on the Mall grounds that day.

"Homeland Security and the CDC work together to operate the BioWatch sensors. The $60 million-plus system was created in 2001 to monitor air in more than 30 U.S. cities....

"A similar incident occurred in Houston in October 2003, when two air sensors detected fragments of tularemia bacteria. There were no human cases of tularemia reported after the incident, and some experts in the bioterror field said they believe the incident was actually spurred by a strain of the bacteria that does not affect humans.

"'It's probably something that just lives in the environment,' said Tara O'Toole, who is director of the Center for Biosecurity, sponsored by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. 'We forget that microorganisms rule the world. Now we're looking and finding things we didn't know were there.'

"Tularemia, often called 'rabbit fever' because small animals are often carriers in rural areas, was amassed by the U.S. military as a biological weapon in the 1960s." Here in the Washington, D.C., area, we just endured the driest September in a long time--if not the driest September on record. My packed-dirt driveway is a dust bowl, and my lawn is completely dormant. Therefore, this recent detection of tularemia on The Mall could be a naturally occurring phenomenon which would have gone unnoticed without the biosensors.

Even so, I remember back to the anthrax attacks of 2001, when the CDC at first thought that the first anthrax-related victim, the man who died at AMC in Florida, must have been exposed to anthrax in the wild. We soon learned that the presence of anthrax in Florida, New York, and Washington, D.C., was no accident, but rather a deliberate attack or attacks. The anthrax attacks of 2001 have never been solved, and those of us who live in close proximity to them continue to be nervous about the threat from bioweapons.

For all our advances in technology, our understanding of unusual phenomena in nature remains limited. And, this time, the D.C. area didn't go into paranoid mode--a good sign, I think--and our government officials appear to have acted appropriately and prudently. Yet this harmless incident is a reminder of our vulnerability to bioattacks.

25 Comments:

At 10/03/2005 1:17 PM, Blogger Gindy said...

I never even heard of this.

""[O]ne theory is that tularemia bacteria, which occur naturally in soil, might have been kicked up by the thousands of feet stomping on the Mall grounds that day."

Hasn't that been happening for years though.

 
At 10/03/2005 2:46 PM, Blogger Pastorius said...

It is understandable that people who live in the D.C. area would be concerned about bioterror attacks. I wonder what you think about the possibility of a nuclear attack? Is that a conversation that comes up, or does everyone just ignore it?

I am the only person I know who would even think of the possibility. Almost everyone I know thinks it's 1997.

I hope they're right.

 
At 10/03/2005 3:56 PM, Blogger Mr. Ducky said...

Tuleremia incidents aren't uncommon. Boston had a bunch of researchs play a little fast and loose and get infected recently.

Hell, it's the Bird Flu that's going to get us.

 
At 10/03/2005 4:55 PM, Blogger gandalf said...

I have not heard of this bacteria surfacing in the UK but I do not doubt it is here.

Here in the UK the biggest bacteriological problem is TB
which is being imported from sub saharan states

 
At 10/03/2005 5:00 PM, Blogger samwich said...

Tularemia is VERY prevalent in rabbits. Jack Rabbits are the worst offenders out west, which is why the indians counseled to not eat jack rabbit until after the first snow.

No I do not eat jack rabbit.

 
At 10/03/2005 6:30 PM, Blogger Always On Watch said...

Gindy,
The first I ever paid attention to the word "tularemia" was during the anthrax attacks on 2001. A list of dangerous and possibly weaponized agents was published during that time.

Certainly in the past, The Mall has been as dry as it now. Of course, we didn't have the biosensors before 9/ll.

 
At 10/03/2005 6:37 PM, Blogger Always On Watch said...

Pastorius,
Richard Preston's book Demon in the Freezer points out many dangers from bioweapons, many of which are unaccounted for, particularly in the Ukraine after the fall of the USSR. Ken Alibek, a Soviet scientist who defected to the United States, warned Congress of this danger back in 1991 or so, but he was paid little mind until 9/11 and the anthrax attacks which soon followed.

Sometimes I feel like we're so often one step behind those who want to do us in.

I recall that somewhere (in the Midwest, I think) a political group poisoned all the salad bars so as to swing the upcoming election by forcing many voters to stay home and close to the porcelain god; those wanting to win the election didn't eat from the salad bars, of course. I don't recall the year, and I don't recall the specific bacterium.

And of course, one must never discount the loner, who uses various substances for his own purposes, or just for kicks as he watches citizens scramble. Remember the Tylenol tamperings? Now, of course, we have bottles so sealed that we can barely get into them!

 
At 10/03/2005 6:44 PM, Blogger Always On Watch said...

Mr. Ducky,
LOL. I couldn't help it. Your name is "Mr. Ducky," and you mentioned bird flu. Ducks need to be very careful. (Sorry, I couldn't resist)

But you're right in that the bird flu poses a real danger. My neighbors, who were with our State Department in Thailand, returned here earlier than scheduled, in large part because of concerns over the bird flu.

I don't recall hearing about the tularemia incidents in Boston. Researchers got infected? Might have been a different strain, then. The strain which recently appeared on The Mall appears to have done no harm, and the incubation period will soon expire.

I have heard of tularemia out West, but not here.

 
At 10/03/2005 6:46 PM, Blogger Always On Watch said...

Samwich,
I didn't know about the Indians' counseling against eating jackrabbit until after the first snow. Cold destroys tularemia or renders the bacterium harmless?

 
At 10/03/2005 6:50 PM, Blogger Always On Watch said...

Gandalf,
We quite a of TB here in the States, and it is commonly known that the TB is carried in by immigrants, who sometimes carry a latent form. Much of the TB is resisitant to the medications usually used.

We have the occasional case of leprosy (Hansen's Disease) as well. The usual origin of leprosy cases here is the South Pacific. I've heard that leprosy is somewhat common in the Philippines. At least this disease is easily treated now, though children under the age of 16 are the most susceptible.

In our ever-shrinking world, we are ripe for epidemics. Remember SARS?

 
At 10/03/2005 9:23 PM, Blogger samwich said...

AOW, the counsel for Jack Rabbits is: if the liver has yellow spots it has Tularemia. And the cold killed off the infected weaker rabbits. The external temperature had little effect on the fur clad healthy rabbits.

I raised Rex rabbits for a couple of years but the effort was not worth return.

S

 
At 10/03/2005 9:29 PM, Blogger Always On Watch said...

Samwich,
Thanks for clearing up my error. As you saw, I know little about rabbits, other than a bit about the ones which used to decimate our garden. We occasionally shot one and ate it. Not a very satisfying meal, IMO.

My cousin has a Rex rabbit as a pet. Tularemia risk there?

 
At 10/03/2005 11:34 PM, Blogger LASunsett said...

Let's not forget the threat of super-infections. I think we have overused antibiotics and as a result there are many types of bacteria that are now resistant to antibiotics.

Methylene Resistant Staphlococcus (sp?) Aureus (MRSA) is a dangerous bacteria that is hard to kill. If you visit someone in the hosptial, be sure to wash your hands very well before eating afterward. Open cuts can become infected because MRSA eats skin underneath the dermal layer and muscle.

MRSA is not the only bug that is dangerous and prevalent. But I will spare you the details and not turn this into a microbiology discussion. Main point, wash hands. Not obsessively, but often. It is the number one defense against getting germs or viruses.

 
At 10/04/2005 12:10 AM, Blogger samwich said...

AOW, I doubt you are at risk for a domestic rabbit. Dandelions are rabbit chocolate.

Iasunset, read "Olive Leaf Extract" by Morton Walker, and
"The Cure For All Diseases" by Hulda R Clark.

I have one of her zappers and if a cold or flu tries to come on it is dead within 36 hours, no meds.

I get the same result with the Olive Leaf Extract, the Hungarian Government uses it as their primary antibiotic. It kills every thing bad including AIDS virus and Herpes. The last time I used it I had been clawed by a very dirty yard cat and the next morning there were no signs of infection or swelling or soreness. It has been proven effective against the "super bugs".

Give them a read.
S

 
At 10/04/2005 12:38 AM, Blogger kalisekj said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 10/04/2005 4:00 AM, Blogger David Schantz said...

Thanks for posting this. Now I want to remind your readers today is the 1st day of Ramadan. I don't want to sound like an alarmist, but please be alert.

God Bless America, God Save The Republic

 
At 10/04/2005 8:46 AM, Blogger Always On Watch said...

LA,
Yes, that particular form of staph is very deadly! One of our dearest friends died of it, as did my cousin. Both contracted the bacterium while in the hospital-- the first fellow from a minor procedure and my cousin from a contaminated pacemaker implant. The ultimate irony about my cousin's death is that the pacemaker wouldn't even have been needed if not for an extreme (an rare) reaction to a statin prescribed for marginally high cholesterol.

The overprescribing of antibiotics has led to a more dangerous world of germs and to allergies to antibiotics as well.

 
At 10/04/2005 8:50 AM, Blogger Always On Watch said...

Samwich,
Thanks for the update on domestic rabbits. My cousin will be relieved.

Ever heard of Nikken Immunity Mushrooms? It's a supplement which boots the immune system. I started taking this supplement last year when I just couldn't shake an upper-respiratory virus, which I contracted in spite of taking olive leaf and astragalus.

 
At 10/04/2005 8:52 AM, Blogger Always On Watch said...

David,
Thanks for the reminder about Ramadan. I believe that it lasts 28 days.

 
At 10/04/2005 2:21 PM, Blogger Mr. Ducky said...

AOW, why so paranoid? Why so concerned about the first day of Ramadan?

Remembr that biological attacks are rare and very difficult to pull off on a mass level. The worst was probably the use of anthrax by the white Rhodesian's during the civil war (yes, we did consult on that one) which killed maybe 2000 blacks. A pretty small precentage of the dead in that ugly little war.

There have been attacks on the Japanese subway involving chem agents but it is simply too difficult to execute on a mass scale.

So as long as the Chechens don't manage to grab smallpox vaccine from the Russians in an operation financed by Afghani heroin bucks...all should be ok with due diligence.

Lest you think this is more liberal raving, none other than the Cato Institute was publishing some very good articles on the true capabilities of bio/chem weaponry and putting the matter to rest.

It's either conventional explosives (a police matter, really) or nuclear capability which has become more likely as we are training terrorists in Iraq at a level never achieved in Afghanistan and supplying plent of money through Afghani heroin and petro bucks.

So don't get so worked up over bio....not a plausible scenario. If you are going to worry make it nuclear since there is very little that can be done about conventional explosives...you can make those in any kitchen.

 
At 10/04/2005 2:22 PM, Blogger Mr. Ducky said...

Oh, the tulerimia incident was at Boston University...caused quite a stir here and has probably set the university's license applications back quite a ways.

 
At 10/05/2005 7:23 AM, Blogger Always On Watch said...

Mr. Ducky,
I'm not worked up about Ramadan, just pointing out its duration. Traditionally, Ramadan can involve jihadist acts. I expect the focus will be elsewhere, but one of the elements of terrorism is the element of surprise. Then, of course, there's always the loner. So I guess I would say that I'm watchful as opposed to paranoid. In fact, I didn't think much about Ramadan yesterday and slept fine last night.

You are correct that explosives are much easier to deploy than bioweapons, in part because using a detonator, which guarantees a wide dissemination of the bacterium, usually destroys the bacterium. Sarin, the agent used in the Japanese subways, is not very stable.

Of all the agents I hear about, smallpox is probably the most dangerous because of the person-to-person contagion. But of course, anthrax lives a mighty long time in the soil, so an area can be contaminated for nobody knows how long. I would think that anthrax might appeal to the same nut cases who like the idea of using suitcase bombs.

Heard this on last night's news...The D.C. authorities have gotten all worked up that DHS didn't have faster notification--somewhat of a local story here, but not getting much attention. I see this flap as politics rather than paranoia.

So as long as the Chechens don't manage to grab smallpox vaccine from the Russians in an operation financed by Afghani heroin bucks...all should be ok with due diligence. Do you mean weaponized smallpox? Well, IMO, due dilligence was lacking early on and still is questionable. When the USSR fell, the labs were left abandoned and fell into decay--no inventory, really. This from Ken Alibek and Richard Preston.

I know little about the incidents at Boston U, so I'm guessing that the incidents resulted from carelessness and/or incompetence.

 
At 10/05/2005 5:01 PM, Blogger Mr. Ducky said...

More due to carelessness and treated with antibiotics.

I'm curious why you think this incident of a naturally occurring agent which infected no one on the Mall is a reminder of our vulnerability to bioattacks?

Oh, and do remember that the Cipro handed out after the 2001 anthrax mailings is only effective against U.S. Milspec.....just something to think about.

 
At 10/06/2005 7:06 AM, Blogger Always On Watch said...

I'm curious why you think this incident of a naturally occurring agent which infected no one on the Mall is a reminder of our vulnerability to bioattacks?

1. We don't know what we don't know. A new agent might go undetected.

2. Sensors are only as good as their programming, and even the experts often don't know what constitutes a dangerous level.

3. Different forms of micro-organisms exist. Not all are dangerous. As I said in my article, officials didn't overreact, but some of that wisdom may have been due to the delay in definitive testing.

4. Conversely to number 3 above, man has tampered with certain agents and thus has modified some agents so that those agents are naturally resistant to effective and/or known treatments.

4. There is a gap between detection and definitive results from testing.

Oh, and do remember that the Cipro handed out after the 2001 anthrax mailings is only effective against U.S. Milspec.....just something to think about.
Yes, and some people cannot take Cipro at all; also, Cipro has some unpleasant side effects.
If any antibiotic is overprescribed, the targeted micro-organisms often develop immunity to the antibiotic.
Thus, antibiotics are not magic potions!
BTW, I think that
www.newsweek.com has some avian-flu information on line this week. I saw a blurb about that topic in the hard copy of the magazine. Danger!

 
At 8/24/2009 2:42 PM, Anonymous Dr Hulda Clark said...

It is advised to everyone that must be visit to his doctor at least once in a month

 

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