Tag Archives: bird flu

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?’

CDC visitors exposed to deadly germs?

Washington (CNN) — It’s a highly secured, sophisticated research lab studying deadly diseases such as bird flu, monkeypox, tuberculosis and rabies.

It’s in a facility called Building 18, which cost taxpayers $214 million.

And now, the Biosafety Level 3 lab at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta is also the subject of a congressional investigation after a potentially dangerous airflow leak at that lab, CNN has learned.

The leak occurred on February 16, when air flowed the wrong way out of a germ lab into a clean-air corridor, rather than through the powerful HEPA filter that cleans the air, congressional sources and CDC officials said. Visitors touring the facility were in the clean corridor when they observed a puff of air being pushed out from the lab through a slot in a door window.

CNN recommends: Deadly bird flu could become airborne

If experiments had been under way at the time of that air leak, experts say, unprotected visitors could have been exposed to deadly germs, although an epidemic would have been unlikely.

According to U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess, a Texas Republican and a medical doctor, the House Energy and Commerce Committee has asked the CDC for documents about that incident. The request came in the wake of a report on internal CDC e-mails about the incident, first reported by USA Today last week.

“The biggest concern was that there was a contingent of visitors who were walking through the building,” Burgess said. “And had one of those people been stricken or made ill or worse, obviously that would have been devastating.”

The lab handles small mammals such as rats, ferrets and mice as part of its experiments with pathogens, according to CDC officials. They say animals were in the lab at the time of the air leak, but they were secured in filtered cages.

CDC officials say the lab was clean, was not active at the time, and no one got infected.

“At no time during recent incidents featured in the media were CDC workers or the public in harm’s way,” agency spokesman Tom Skinner said. “This unique facility features multiple security layers specifically designed to protect workers and the public in the event of an incident.”

In a statement released to CNN, Burgess’ committee said, “We will actively work to find out if there are additional concerns or incidents associated with Building 18. Any anomaly or breach is of concern, and we will work to ensure the integrity of the facility is maintained and that our scientists are safe.”

There has been at least one other safety-related incident in that same building where February’s air leak occurred.

In 2008, it was discovered that a high-containment lab door was sealed with duct tape. That incident was first reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and confirmed to CNN by Skinner.

Robert Hawley, former safety chief at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, said the CDC has many safety layers in place at its labs. Hawley says researchers at the Biosafety Level 3 lab work in biosafety “cabinets” within the lab itself.

“Nothing is handled outside that cabinet,” Hawley said. “So they’re working with minute amounts of material, and the chances of aerosol are negligible.”

But there are questions about a possible cover-up.

In an internal e-mail, reported by USA Today, CDC biologist Kismet Scarborough said the centers “… will do anything … to hide the fact that we have serious problems with the airflow and containment in this whole building.”

CNN has not been able to independently verify that e-mail. But in response, Skinner said, “CDC will continue to take an open, transparent and inclusive approach to address any safety challenge in a manner that will ensure the safety of our workforce and the public.”

Skinner said the agency “intends to cooperate fully with Rep. Burgess and the committee to address any questions they may have about Building 18 at CDC.”

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.

A viral pandemic has the potential to cripple the nation’s workforce and infrastructure

A viral pandemic has the potential to cripple the nation’s workforce and infrastructure. Where does government provision end and your contingency planning begin? By Andrea Kirkby

With 5.3 million extra tourists arriving for the Olympics, the risk of avian flu and other pandemics arriving in the UK has greatly increased.


But back in December 2005, the Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology said the country was not ready to defend itself against an avian flu pandemic. Have things changed since?

According to Dr Doug Quarry, medical director of International SOS Pandemic Planning Services, the spread of the H5N1 virus is not the only issue – new strains have developed, too. Has preparedness kept up to date with the risk, or are we becoming dangerously complacent?

Globally, government preparedness varies widely. But overall, in terms of healthcare, preparedness has certainly improved. Major vaccine manufacturers ramped up their capabilities in 2006 and the UK government stockpiled 16,000 doses of Pandemix. In fact, now the political issue is whether the UK government has bought too much vaccine and paid too high a price.

The government also put a detailed pandemic strategy in place, which was overhauled in 2011. However, while this covers NHS and social services preparedness in detail, it’s pretty vague on how businesses will cope. Generally, it foresees ‘business as usual’; borders won’t be closed, nor will schools, and while events organisers ‘may prefer’ to cancel major events, there will be no government compulsion.

Unfortunately, that throws the entire burden for preparedness on to individual businesses. And the Association of British Insurers says business interruption policies are unlikely to cover closures as a result of an influenza epidemic. In terms of medical preparedness, a number of businesses are now stockpiling antivirals for key staff and their families. But that’s only the tip of a very large iceberg. Bird flu or swine flu here and in the rest of the world could have a major impact on businesses in many different areas of operations.

Logistics is an obvious area where business continuity plans will be vital. Even if the UK itself isn’t affected, companies that import supplies or outsource parts of their business process are at risk from outbreaks in other countries. British business is now highly dependent on the Far East for its components and sub-assemblies. Call centres in other countries could also be badly affected.

Continuity plans need to enable a speedy response. Australia declared it would close its borders within two hours in the event of a bird-flu pandemic – that would give businesses little time to prepare.

Know your own needs 

Many companies are handicapped by lack of detailed knowledge of their own supply chains. For instance, multiple sourcing won’t help if suppliers all depend on a single crop or base component manufacturer. Service Level Agreements should help guarantee supply, but strategic stockpiling may be necessary.

Within the UK, cash handling and postal services are likely to prove bottlenecks – cash handling was one of the concerns arising from the FSA’s market-wide exercise in 2006. Neither banks nor the Post Office are on the government’s list of Category 2 responders, although arguably they are as vital to the smooth running of the nation as the railways or ports. Smaller bank branches could have to close if staff are sick, leaving some areas without banking facilities and ATM top-ups depend on transport, which could be knocked out early in a pandemic.

Businesses will also rely on telecoms and so network resilience is a major issue. While telecoms companies (both fixed and mobile) are listed as Category 2 responders, facilities will be stretched, particularly where companies have told staff to work from home.

Some companies are now looking at the possibility of using distributed or ‘virtual’ call centres, possible using such services as OPEX hosting. Routing calls to employees’ homes rather than setting up large emergency centres may well be the best way to cope with a pandemic (although ironically, the government plans to set up a centralised public information call centre – just the kind of facility businesses are likely to be avoiding.)

Will the internet stand up to increased usage? There are real concerns about the ability of service providers to cope with the increased traffic. A Booz Allen report in April 2006 speculated that internet provision might only last two to four days into a pandemic. Even then, Jeroen Meijer, an expert in risk at Control Risks, says he believes that working from home requires a completely different way of managing staff. “Businesses will have to change and change fast, or their plans won’t stick.”

While most business continuity plans are focused on assets – offices and IT – pandemic preparedness has to focus on human resources. Meijer says: “It’s like a neutron bomb – your hardware is still there, but you are losing your staff.”

Worst-case scenarios

Government advice appears to understate the risks to business. The 2011 UK Influenza Preparedness Strategy sees the worst-case scenario as flu affecting 50 per cent of the population, with 15 to 20 per cent of staff absent on any single day, and mortality rates of 2 to 5 per cent.

However, the 2006 FSA market-wide exercise modelled staff absence as high as a 60 per cent peak in some business units. Businesses with a high proportion of female, particularly part-time, staff also need to assess the likelihood of staff who are not ill having to look after children if schools close.

Meijer points out that most business systems aren’t yet able to offer staff absence data in a form that’s useful in stress situations. “Absenteeism monitoring is crucial and not many companies have it on a day-to-day basis, so you could say with one push on the button, who is available where.” This is one area where, compared to the sophisticated systems with which many supply chains are run, human resources scores relatively low.

A pandemic is difficult to protect against since it is not a singular event; pandemics typically come in waves lasting six to 15 months. Flexibility has to be built in; equally, companies need trusted sources of information to monitor the pandemic internationally and that feedback will provide the triggers to action. Meijer warns against believing in a “one-button solution” to a dynamic threat. “Your decision-making process needs to incorporate flexibility and continuous monitoring.”


Fortunately, one area that has advanced a good deal recently has been the availability of good information. National media will generally not report in detail on the situation in other countries – affecting the supply chain – while some governments may downplay the situation in order to avoid panic. There are no government plans for a business-orientated information service, so all public information will be consumer focused and therefore of limited utility to the business manager.

Fortunately, a wide range of information products is now available. For instance, International SOS reports include the ascertaining of medical suppliers and reports monitoring government response.

Keep calm and carry on?

One question divides experts: how bad can a pandemic get? At worst, some believe, most of the transport infrastructure might be shut down, telecoms would be badly impacted by lack of maintenance and high usage, and there could be public order problems if the supply of food and other basic items is interrupted. In the face of a social breakdown of that order, there might seem to be no point planning.

However, Jeroen Meijer says that even in this case, those businesses that have planned well will gain an eventual competitive advantage from having done so. “The objective is to stay in business as long as possible and if you have to shut down completely, do it in a controlled manner that provides the best security to your staff and assets, and enables you to restart operations quickly and efficiently.”

It’s difficult to judge business preparedness, since many businesses won’t talk about their preparations. Most companies do now have pandemic plans as part of their business continuity framework, but those plans may not have been revisited for several years. Perhaps they should be.

There’s a huge impact on the work of facilities managers. A plan needs to be put in place for managing the consequences of a pandemic – checking sanitation and air quality, handling high absenteeism and planning for interruption to basic services and to transport. Basic cleaning services should be stepped up – that might mean cleaning lift buttons, door handles, ATM machines and check-in desks as often as hourly. That means increasing the level of service at the same time as managing a staff shortage – not an easy task.

Cross-training staff so that they can step in to replace staff who are absent will be vital – particularly where remote working is not a possibility. In some cases, upgrading systems to allow for remote operation could be a good investment.

Some facilities may need to implement perimeter protection, possibly including thermal scanners (which can detect if someone has a fever) or even DNA testing. New procedures for deliveries may be required to prevent drivers from entering the building – dropping off the deliveries in a secure car park, for instance. Where security is provided by a contractor, common policies and procedures need to be developed with them, including where staff are not admitted, what to do next (send them home? To hospital?) and who to notify within the organisation.

Facilities managers also need to ensure that subcontractors and suppliers have plans to deal with a pandemic. Unlike many disasters, a pandemic will be a sustained event, probably lasting eight to 14 weeks, so planning needs to take that into account. For instance, stocks of critical supplies may need to be built up. Tenant relations and contracts also need to be put under the microscope. If the government or a tenant closes a building, how can you continue to manage it? Are you going to be required – and are you going to be able – to provide emergency relocation for the tenant?

However, while the pandemic threat does have some special characteristics, developing a specific pandemic plan could be a waste of effort. Rather, pandemic plans should be developed within the framework of overall continuity plans.

The most worrying gap is the absence of government involvement in assuring the regular supply of basic goods. Booz Allen Hamilton noted back in 2006 that government needs to assurethe ‘last mile’ – but the 2011 strategy still doesn’t seem to have taken any notice. Is reliance on the private sector, without compulsion or assistance, a responsible government strategy?