Tag Archives: biosecurity

Kansas militia expects zombies, and it’s dead serious

It’s got to be one of the coolest names ever for a group:

The Kansas Anti Zombie Militia.

But the group is real and its members are pretty serious about it.

Once the Zombie Apocalypse hits, they’ll be ready for it and they want you to be too.

“Can a natural person change into this monster that many fear?” Alfredo Carbajal, the militia’s main spokesman, said in an interview. “The possibilities are yes, it can happen. We have seen incidents that are very close to it, and we are thinking it is more possible than people think.”

Carbajal and other true believers aren’t so much scared of movie zombies. The apocalypse they see coming is a pandemic spread by a virus that creates zombie-like symptoms.

Last month, the Discovery Channel featured the Kansas militia in a documentary that concluded that such a Zombie Apocalypse — or Zompoc — was possible. The program featured scientists who speculated some evolving virus is bound to jump to humans on our overcrowded planet.

Of course, scientists have been warning about pandemics such as bird flu that don’t produce zombies, but zombies are the hot monsters right now.

A packed house listened last year at St. Mary’s College of Maryland as a chemist, psychologist and student acknowledged the possibility of an epidemic, according to the school’s newspaper.

The panel pointed out that there already have been zombie-like symptoms dating back to 1594; they were eventually determined to be the first recorded human case of furious rabies — an especially serious form of rabies.

Carbajal, 28, didn’t start out as a zombie fighter.

He and several friends grew up in Wamego, home of the Oz museum, watching zombie movies like “Shaun of the Dead,” “28 Days Later” and “Night of the Living Dead” and playing video games like the Left 4 Dead video game series.

The friends designed a web page for fun but then they began wondering what to do if there was actually a zompoc, and their thinking turned serious.

The group has five founders but about 1,500 likes on its Facebook page.

It’s not all zombie crusading; the militia also sponsors a Zombie Walk in October to raise money and food for charities.

But the group’s website points out that the militia is committed to research and preparing for a zompoc.

“We are not crazy. We are not paranoid. We believe in preparedness in any situation,” it says.

Everything you need to know about surviving a zombie attack can be found on the militia’s website — never take on a small horde of zombies by yourself because that would be suicide, and make sure all your skin is covered because blood spatters can be infectious.

Blunt objects are better to use than, say, knives because blades tend to dull after each use. A metal bat and a collapsible baton are the two most recommended weapons.

The site also notes as “a real-life threat to humanity” a biosecurity lab planned near Manhattan, Kan.

Carbajal and his group are not alone in their deep fascination over zombies. Much of the country has been touched.

The “Walking Dead” cable series broke basic cable ratings records with more than 10 million viewers for the first show of season three. And already hype for a movie, based on the book “World War Z,” is widespread even though its release date is six months out.

How-to books have been published in recent years, including the “Zombie Survival Guide,” which made the New York Times Best Seller List, and the “Zombie Combat Manual,” which warns “During a zombie outbreak, 98% of individuals will have to destroy an undead opponent without the aid of a firearm. Will you be ready?”

Carbajal said that if you aren’t a true believer, just being prepared for any apocalypse or natural disaster is a good thing.

“My thought is if you are ready for zombies, you are ready for anything, whether it be natural disasters, fall of government, invasion from another country — the possibilities are endless,” he said. “The point is to keep yourself and your loved ones safe.”

Others agree.

Using the guise of a zombie apocalypse, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state emergency management agencies are trying to get people to be prepared for a natural disaster with at least several days of food and supplies, copies of important documents and a plan.

“It’s a spoof; we are not encouraging a zombie scare,” said Devan Tucking-Strickler, Kansas Division of Emergency Management spokeswoman. “We use the tagline, ‘If you are prepared for zombies, you are prepared for anything and prepared for the unexpected.’ ”

Kansas even used the militia to help promote general disaster awareness.

Members of the group were featured in a photograph with Gov. Sam Brownback when he signed a proclamation declaring October as Zombie Preparedness Month in Kansas.

A little preparation for disaster can prove very important later, but most people don’t prepare, said another viral disaster worrier, Shawn Beatty, who also was featured on the Discovery documentary.

“You can get a first aid kit for $100, something that you should have in your house anyway, or you can go to dinner, take a trip, or have a really nice night out with that $100,” said Beatty, a public-school teacher in Columbia. “Who is going to say, ‘Let’s go buy something that you may not use?’

GERM OUTBREAK AT CDC – Security lapses found at CDC bioterror lab in Atlanta

A federal bioterror laboratory already under investigation by Congress for safety issues has had repeated incidents of security doors left unlocked to an area where experiments occur with dangerous germs, according to internal agency e-mails obtained by USA TODAY. In one incident, an unauthorized employee was discovered inside a restricted area.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spokesman says the unsecured door incidents in 2010 and 2009 inside its Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratory in Atlanta were “not an acceptable practice of the agency.” At no time, though, were bioterror organisms such as anthrax at risk of falling into the wrong hands, he said.

“The doors in question here are but one layer of multiple layers of security when it comes to both the animals and the agents that are worked on,” CDC spokesman Tom Skinner said. “The security measures we have in place, without going into detail, make it close to impossible for anyone who doesn’t have approved access to the agents to get their hands on them.”

The e-mails document doors being left unlocked in the building’s high-containment lab block, which includes an animal-holding area and Biosafety Level 3 labs where experiments are done on microbes that can cause serious or potentially fatal diseases and can be spread through the air. Anthrax, monkeypox, dangerous strains of influenza and the SARS virus are examples.

One e-mail by a CDC safety manager describes an unauthorized man discovered in the animal-holding area and multiple doors that were unsecured at the time. Skinner says the man was a CDC scientist but was not immediately able to provide further details about why he was in the restricted area. Skinner said the man was in an outer corridor of the BSL-3 suite of labs.

For safety and security, access to BSL-3 labs is restricted and they are supposed to have special airflow systems designed to help keep organisms inside. Problems with the airflow systems revealed by USA TODAY, including a February incident where air briefly blew out of a lab into a “clean” hallway, prompted the House Energy and Commerce Committee this week to launch a bipartisan investigation into safety issues. The committee is examining whether CDC — which inspects its own labs along with others nationwide that handle bioterror agents — is complying with federal safety requirements at the lab building, also known as CDC Building 18.

E-mails written by CDC Safety and Occupational Health manager Patrick Stockton indicate the lab has had security lapses that Rutgers University biosafety expert Richard Ebright said may be a “major violation” of security standards for labs that work with potential bioterror agents.

In a November 2009 e-mail, Stockton wrote to several CDC officials involved with Building 18’s high-containment laboratory area: “We are continuing to have some difficulties with doors remaining unsecured in the (high-containment lab) area. … If we continue to have issues, we will need to begin looking at individual access rights for these doors.” The particular issue involved expansion sections of the doors, used to accommodate large pieces of equipment. The “through-bolts are not being re-engaged, and the doors are remaining unsecured,” Stockton wrote.

Five months later, the expansion doors continued to be left unlatched and unsecured. According to an April 29, 2010, e-mail to more than a dozen CDC officials involved with the lab building, Stockton wrote that earlier that day “an individual with no access and no escort” was found in the research animal-holding area of the high-containment lab area.

The e-mail continued: “He did not have access and at this point we are not sure how he got there.” Stockton wrote that he talked to program and animal staff and “no one from their programs let this person in.” CDC’s Office of Security and Emergency Preparedness, which is a liaison to the Department of Homeland Security, was investigating, the e-mail said. Homeland Security officials did not respond to questions about the CDC security incidents.

Stockton’s e-mail says that after the incident he and the building’s high-containment lab manager, Anthony Sanchez, walked the entire high-containment block and found two doors unsecured. “This can certainly happen by mistake on occasion but we have addressed this issue in the past and now it seems to be a common failure point. … It is imperative that all doors leading to high containment remain secured,” Stockton wrote.

Stockton and Sanchez didn’t grant interviews. CDC spokesman Skinner said: “Doors being left open by staff is not a standard practice. It’s unacceptable, and our safety office has sent out numerous reminders to staff of the importance of staff practicing good physical security.”

Skinner said he is unaware of any other door security incidents after the one in April 2010. He emphasized that multiple layers of security in the building would have prevented any unauthorized person from accessing germs that hold the potential to be used as bioterror weapons. “The bottom line is, worker safety and the public safety were never compromised,” he said.

Ebright, of Rutgers University, expressed concern about the repeated issues revealed in news reports about Building 18 since the $214 million building opened in 2005, including articles in 2007 about backup generators that failed to keep airflow systems working during a power outage, and in 2008 about a high-containment lab door that the CDC sealed with duct tape after an incident where an airflow system malfunctioned and sent potentially contaminated air into a “clean” corridor.

The “documents you have obtained over the past several years make it clear that there has been a pattern of corner-cutting and negligence at CDC biocontainment facilities —starting with the failure to include provisions for emergency backup power, and encompassing inadequate door seals, improper airflow, jury-rigged repairs, and unsecured access points,” Ebright said.

If the security issues described in Stockton’s 2010 e-mail continue and bioterror agents are being used in that area, Ebright said, “then heads should fall.”

The CDC currently is responsible for inspecting the safety and security of its labs that work with bioterror agents. Skinner said CDC has a 66-year record of operating its labs safely.

The CDC said this week, in the wake of USA TODAY’s reports, that it is considering having its labs’ safety reviewed by an outside agency, such as the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID).

Biosafety and biosecurity concerns have been the subject of previous congressional concerns. A 2009 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, examined the potential risks posed by the growing number of high-containment labs doing research on potential bioterror agents. It found that while lab accidents are rare, they do occur, primarily because of human error and systems failures.

It also noted that insiders working in the labs can pose risks, pointing to the Federal Bureau of Investigation‘s allegation that Bruce Ivins, a scientist at USAMRIID in Fort Detrick, Md., was the “sole culprit” in the 2001 anthrax attacks. While he was under investigation in 2008, Ivins died of a drug overdose.

“There are arguably two aspects to insider risk: the motive of the insider and the ability to misuse material and laboratory facilities,” the GAO wrote in its report.

Mutant bird flu would be airborne

Mutant bird flu would be airborne, scientists say
June 21st, 2012
02:00 PM ET

Mutant bird flu would be airborne, scientists say

Here’s what it takes to make a deadly virus transmissible through the air: as few as five genetic mutations, according to a new study.

This research, published in the journal Science, is the second of two controversial studies to finally be released that examines how the H5N1 bird flu virus can be genetically altered and transmitted in mammals. Publication of both studies had been delayed many months due to fears that the research could be misused and become a bio-security threat.

Although these particular engineered forms of H5N1 have not been found in nature, the virus has potential to mutate enough such that it could become airborne.

H5N1 influenza can be deadly to people, but in its natural forms it does not easily transfer between people through respiratory droplets, as far as scientists know. The World Health Organization has recorded 355 humans deaths from it out of 602 cases, although some research has questioned this high mortality rate.

The journals Science and Nature had agreed to postpone the publication of the two studies related to the genetically altered virus.

In January, the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity recommended that this research be published without “methods or details” that terrorists might be able to use for biological weapons. The board also said the data could assist in preparing for a possible future outbreak, however.

Then in February, the World Health Organization convened a meeting, at which the recommendation was to publish the studies – just not yet. In April, the National Institutes of Health chimed in, also recommending publication.

The first study to be published on the topic was in the journal Nature, and was led by the University of Wisconsin-Madison researcher Yoshihiro Kawaoka. It was released in May.

The other research group, which authored the new study in Science, was led by Ron Fouchier at the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, Netherlands.

Both Kawaoka and Fouchier’s groups created a mutated version of H5N1 that made it easier to transmit from mammal to mammal. They used ferrets because these animals are a good approximation for how viruses behave in humans.

Fouchier’s study examines what mutations would be necessary to get the virus airborne. He and colleagues found five mutations consistent in a form of the H5N1 flu virus that could spread among ferrets through the air.

None of the ferrets died after developing the flu, the researchers said.

In a separate analysis, researchers looked at the likelihood that an airborne avian flu virus would evolve on its own from the H5N1 currently found in nature.

This study, also published in Science this week, looked at nearly 4,000 strains of influenza virus and frequently found two of the five mutations that appear to be involved in airborne transmission. These two mutations have been found in viruses from both birds and humans, although not in naturally-occurring H5N1 strains.

Derek Smith of the University of Cambridge, who co-authored that study, said at a press briefing that it’s possible that only three mutations are necessary for the virus to evolve.

Smith’s group also did mathematical modeling to look at whether the other mutations could evolve when the bird flu jumps to a human or other mammal.

“We find that it is possible for such a virus to evolve three mutations within a single host,” Smith said during the press call.

If it takes four for five mutations to become airborne, that would be more difficult – but it’s unclear just how likely it would be, Smith said.

While the Nature study looked at how a bird flu virus could become airborne through mutations and re-assortment with other viruses, the latest research in Science suggests mutations alone could do the trick.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told reporters that the benefits from the Science study, in terms stimulating ideas and pursuing ways to understand the transmissibility, adaptability and pathogenesis of the virus, outweigh the risks that someone will use the data for nefarious purposes.

“Does that mean that there’s no risk? No, of course not. I can’t tell you at all
that there’s no risk. But the benefits in my mind outweigh the risks,” he said.

Making the research available generally will hopefully spark input on this topic from researchers in a wide variety of fields, he said.

It is technologically possible to create vaccine based on the genetic code of a flu virus strain including this one, researchers said. Several companies are already making H5N1 vaccines.

Research is ongoing to accelerate the amount of vaccine doses available by using adjuvants, which are agents that modify the effects of vaccines, Fauci said. There is also work ongoing into using computational sequencing to anticipate every possible influenza strain that could emerge, such that a databank could be established to prepare for the outbreak of any one of them, he said.

“Right now we’re in a much, much better position than we were when we had vaccine available after the peak of the 2009 H1N1 two years ago,” Fauci said.