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Did Reliance Upon Animal Testing Cause Grave Miscalculation of Anthrax Threat?

December 3, 2001

I've previously written about the stupidity of relying on animal testing to find cures for human diseases.  Now it seems that reliance on this discredited, barbaric process has come back to haunt us in connection with  the anthrax attacks against our country.

The media assured us over and over that in order to contract a case of inhalation anthrax, a person would have to inhale a huge number of spores, 8-10,000 of them.  It was joked that one would practically have to snort the powder from the envelope to inhale that much.

But then Ottilie W. Lundgren, a 94-year-old Connecticut woman, and Kathy T. Nguyen, a 61-year-old hospital worker from the Bronx, died of inhalation anthrax without any seeming such snorting having gone on.

The "authorities" have now concluded that these two women may have each simply come into contact with a letter that itself had come into contact in a mail-sorting machine with the letter containing the anthrax:

Initially, federal health officials said that only a person who opened a letter with anthrax spores could get enough of a dose to cause a fatal case of the disease.

Then they said that even people who just handled a sealed letter could be fatally infected.

Now it appears that someone who received a letter that came into contact with a poisoned letter might be at risk of getting a fatal dose.

This is because

Mrs. Lundgren, because of her advanced age, could have been killed by a fraction of the 8,000 to 10,000 spores that epidemiologists say are necessary to infect the average person.

And how did the epidemiologists arrive at that 8,000 to 10,000 figure?

The lethal dose for anthrax is often said to be 8,000 to 10,000 spores. But that is in fact the amount needed to kill 50 percent of a population of monkeys. No one knows the smallest number of spores it would take to kill just 1 percent of a population -- the experiment would require hundreds of monkeys -- but it could be just a couple of hundred spores.

This statement presupposes that the 8-10,000 figure is correct, and just needs to be adjusted for a more vulnerable portion of the population.

But Ms. Nguyen was only 61, and apparently healthy.  So it's NOT just the elderly or immunologically impaired who apparently can succumb to far less than the 8-10,000 spore dose.

Then consider this latest additional pronouncement from the health authorities:

Senior officials of the Department of Health and Human Services said yesterday that some tens of thousands of letters processed weeks ago might have been contaminated with trace amounts of anthrax spores merely by coming into contact with intentionally poisoned mail...

[T]he officials said that people with compromised immune systems who were uneasy about the risk might feel more comfortable having someone else open their mail, washing their hands after opening letters or taking other protective steps.

"There seems to be the potential for not just hundreds and not just thousands, but tens of thousands and maybe more letters to be potentially at risk for some level of cross-contamination," said Dr. Jeffrey P. Koplan, the director of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Combine the likelihood that the 8-10,000 spore figure for "normal" people must be adjusted to a far lesser amount, with the fact that tens of thousands of letters must now be considered to each have such an amount of the anthrax bacteria on them, and we have a big problem indeed.

If instead of animal testing, the scientific community had relied upon and developed ever-more-sophisticated and accurate cell culture testing and epidemiological and computer models, perhaps we'd have had a better idea of the actual quantity of spores necessary to cause inhalation anthrax.

This was a selection from The Daily Diatribe


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