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.
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
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.