Today’s news:

LIJ holds conference on biological warfare

In an effort to educate its staff and review procedure, the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Hospital in Glen Oaks held a hospital-wide meeting Friday to go over the different types of biological and chemical weapons that could be used by governments or terrorists against civilians.

The conference — “Grand Rounds” — stemmed from the recent anthrax attacks in New York City, Florida, Washington, and Las Vegas that infected some 15 Americans. As of press time there were no Queens cases of the potentially deadly disease.

“Biological weapons are the poor man’s nuclear bomb,” said Dr. Dario Gonzalez, medical director for clinical affairs for the New York City Fire Department and an attending physician at LIJ. “It is so easy and cheap to make and put out. Development of these types of weapons has been going on as long as man.”

He said the use of biological warfare can be traced back to the Peloponnesian War 431-404 B.C. In past battles armies catapulted corpses at their enemy to cause the plague; the British used small-pox in their battle against the American Indians; in the 1960s the United States developed weapons to destroy vast swaths of agriculture in Vietnam; and the then-Soviet Union operated biological weapons plants throughout the communist nation.

Biological weapons using anthrax, smallpox and the plague are each powerful enough to wipe out hundreds of thousands if not millions of people, Gonzalez said. He cited a 1993 study by the Office of Technology Assessment, which concluded that on a clear night in Washington, D.C., an airplane carrying 100 kilograms of anthrax spores — which become bacteria and then rapidly multiply in the body — could kill between 1 million and 3 million people. By comparison, a one megaton nuclear warhead will kill up to 2 million people.

“One needs to be able to deliver [the weapons] to mixed populations and that becomes an issue, but we are learning that people out there are willing to deliver them,” he said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, two of the three forms of anthrax have shown up in the United States, which had resulted in the death of a man in Florida and two men in Washington, D.C. by press time. The three forms of the anthrax infection are cutaneous (through the skin), through the digestive system, and by inhaling the spores.

Anthrax can be transmitted by handling infected animals or inhaling anthrax spores from a contaminated animal, according to the CDC. The disease can also spread from eating undercooked meat from infected animals, but it is rare to find infected animals in the United States.

For cutaneous anthrax, a large boil-like sore appears on the skin and turns into a black scab. If untreated, it will infect the bloodstream and lymph nodes. A person infected by inhalation anthrax will have flu-like symptoms and as the diseases progresses, it may cause victims to stop breathing. Patients with the gastrointestinal form of the disease will develop a fever, have stomach pain and blood in their vomit.

The CDC said the symptoms, which usually appear within seven days, vary and depend on how the disease was contracted.

Dr. Lorry Rubin, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at Schneider Children’s Hospital, part of the North Shore/LIJ system, said hospital workers need to reassure patients who show flu symptoms that they do not have anthrax.

“Remember: Because you hear hoofs outside of the hospital,” said Dr. Henry Isenberg, chief emeritus microbiology at LIJ, “it is horses, not zebras.”

Reach reporter Adam Kramer by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 157.

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