Bioterrorism can be more lethal than a nuclear bomb, doctor says.
By PETER H. MILLIKEN
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Unleashed to its full potential, bioterrorism poses an overwhelming threat to our national security, an infectious disease specialist said here.
If 220 pounds of aerosolized anthrax were released over Washington, D.C., experts estimate it would kill between 130,000 and 3 million people, said Dr. John Venglarcik, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at Forum Health Tod Children's Hospital.
"This has got a higher kill rate than a nuclear bomb," Dr. Venglarcik told an audience of several dozen people Thursday at the Melnick Medical Museum at Youngstown State University.
Experts have calculated that a 10-kiloton nuclear bomb dropped on Washington would kill about 800,000 people, he said.
The cost of anthrax treatment would be $26.2 billion per 100,000 people exposed, he added.
What was learned: Dr. Venglarcik characterized the 23 cases of anthrax in the United States this past fall, which were reported mostly in governmental, postal and media facilities, as "a copycat crime'' that followed the Sept. 11 airplane attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Yet, he noted that even the 23 cases, which included six fatalities, induced panic in their places of occurrence.
"We know Iraq has smallpox. It's an absolute fact, and we know the North Koreans have smallpox," in weaponized form from the former Soviet Union, Dr. Venglarcik said, adding that any military action to eliminate these threats would have to be performed by special forces in a high-risk mission.
The U.S. government plans to have 280 million doses of smallpox vaccine available by October, he said, adding that its admininstration would be risky, causing an estimated 5,000 to 10,000 deaths from vaccine side effects in a national immunization program.
"I just pray to God, it [a smallpox outbreak] doesn't happen before we get the 280 million doses together. If there is a risk, we should immunize as many people as we possibly can. I think we really have to because we can't let [terrorists] hold us hostage," he said.
When anthrax cases are reported, decisions concerning who gets antibiotic treatments must weigh the benefits against the risks of side effects.
Treatment: In the case of anthrax in the mail, those at highest risk who should receive antibiotics are:
UPeople who came in direct contact with the powder.
UThose who were in the immediate area where the letter was opened or in an area with widespread contamination.
UThose who were present at a site where someone actually became ill with inhalation anthrax.
For high-risk people, antibiotics are recommended over a 100-day period, he said. To date, no cases of anthrax have occurred among 10,000 people for whom post-exposure antibiotics were recommended or made available, Dr. Venglarcik said.