In reality, that's not what would happen at all. Such a hypothetical event actually occurred, except it wasn't a terrorist. It was a research company that claimed to have "accidentally" distributed all of these samples of the deadly H2N2 influenza strain, which is most famous for killing millions of people around the world in 1957. It was called the "Spanish Flu" at the time, although that name is not technically accurate.
This company took this deadly virus and replicated it, then put it in kits that were part of an everyday influenza identification testing kit. They overnighted these kits through postal mail or courier services to over 4,000 destinations around the world in many different countries. When this became headline news, however, nobody was interested in finding out whether this was a crime. Nobody thought, "Why is this happening?" Nobody raised the alarm and said, "You know what, this is a threat to human health." This is a deadly virus and people born after 1957 have no immunity whatsoever to this virus. This means you could re-release this old H2N2 influenza strain into today's population, and you could observe the same kill rate experienced back in 1957. You could see the same mess all over again with millions of people dying worldwide.
As if all of these viruses aren't dangerous enough on their own -- for example, Marburg in Angola and the bird flu virus in Southeast Asia -- we actually have companies replicating these deadly strains and distributing them, just to make sure that they're in everybody's labs all over the world.
It gets worse. Some of these shipments were lost. They don't even know where they are! They claim now that virtually all of these shipments have been destroyed, but how do we know? Even then, shouldn't somebody be held responsible for distributing this deadly virus? You could be charged with federal crimes if you were caught with this kind of material. If you sent it out to somebody, who knows how many years you'd do in prison for a stunt like that. In this country, we've been arresting people for putting white powder in envelopes and sending them to Congressmen, claiming it was anthrax. Anthrax doesn't even approach the kill rate of something like H2N2. And as far as I can see, nobody's really being held responsible for this.
This is not a minor issue. This is not "Oops, we just released a level-4 biological agent into the wild. We sent it to 4,000 destinations in over a dozen different countries, and we can't really find 10 percent of those any more. We don't know where they are, and nobody does." To me, this all sounds a little suspicious. If anybody else had pulled a stunt like this, they would have the FBI, the CDC, and the World Health Organization descending upon them instantly. This research company, however, appears to have undergone no such scrutiny. Where are the answers to the really important questions in this matter? How did they get their hands on H2N2? Shouldn't this be a controlled viral specimen? Aren't there restrictions on who has this stuff? Can anybody just order H2N2, H5N1, or any of the other influenza strains that have killed people over the years? Can we just go out and buy this stuff on the internet? Apparently, yes. That's what these people did. Over 4,000 customers bought this kit. They said, "Take my credit card and send me some level 4 biological agents."
It all just strikes me as a little bizarre. What if one of these vials broke open in the shipment? What if a FedEx driver broke one of these containers, contracted the virus, and it suddenly started replicating in that person? It could have been any courier, but what if they then came into contact with other people? Suddenly, you'd have a carrier, and the virus would be spreading. We would have the Spanish Flu all over again.
That scenario is not at all out of the realm of possibility, especially when the virus sample has been sent to 4,000 destinations. If you play the odds long enough, nature is going to clobber you. Nature will survive and viruses, of course, are not even living. A virus is just basically a pattern of DNA. It doesn't have to be alive to be dangerous. The fact that these were "dead" samples did not make it safer for all of us.
Here's another interesting fact in all of this. This deadly strain of influenza was only discovered accidentally by one of the labs that had received this shipment. It took some real detective work for them to figure out they had this deadly influenza strain in this kit. In other words, the research company that was sending these kits out wasn't even aware that they were doing it. They most likely would never have been aware of it if one of their customers hadn't alerted them. There was no mechanism in place to test these outgoing kits. There was no safety net. They could have been shipping these off to anybody, and it could have continued for years. Who knows how many samples would have been out there in the wild?
As a nation, we are frequently worried about the wrong things. For example, we're spending all this money on the fight against terrorists, and we're in Iraq fighting a war, and it seems like every decade we do it again. However, we've got people right here in the United States who are replicating these deadly strains of influenza and shipping them out into the wild. To me, thatís a much bigger threat than any terrorist, real or imagined. I don't mean to minimize the whole international situation, but if one virus like this gets out and the right person contracts it, you'd have a pandemic on your hands. You'd have an outbreak. And you can't fight a pandemic with bullets.
It wasn't too long ago that President Bush signed an order giving the government the right to quarantine air travelers who may be infected with things like the bird flu, or any other infectious disease. Here's the scenario: You've suddenly got H2N2 out in the wild, you've got Marburg going crazy over in Angola, you've got the bird flu virus all over in Korea right now, and you suddenly get people flying back to America exhibiting some upper respiratory symptoms. They get taken off the plane and quarantined, because they're a threat to everyone else in this country. If this gets any worse, or if H2N2 actually gets out into the wild and starts infecting people, we're going to have a lot of people quarantined. You'd better not get sick, because they're going to take you away. Seriously, that's what the order dictates. They're going to take you away and quarantine you for the good of everyone else in society.
I actually agree with that policy. I think that if you are in charge of the safety of a population, you have to make that kind of decision. You cannot let a pandemic just keep growing and spreading. If you're in charge of the CDC, or the World Health Organization, or the US Government, you have to quarantine people who appear to be a threat to public health. But what it means for us in terms of our freedoms is that they're being trampled on. Again, you'd better not get sick, since there are so many infectious disease agents out there now that people are getting increasingly paranoid. You could be pulled off of a plane, you could be pulled out of a line at some kind of a checkpoint, you could be quarantined, and you'd have no say about it. You wouldn't get an attorney, and you'd be quarantined by force. If you resist, you could quickly see firearms being pointed in your face. Gunpoint is the ultimate application of government willpower.
The Spanish Flu should have been over and done with in 1957. We shouldn't have to revisit it again. We've got enough dangerous stuff going around anyway. We've got superbugs in the hospitals. We've got people breeding superbugs in their own kitchens and bathrooms because they're using these antibacterial soaps that actually encourage the creation of resistant bacteria strains. We've got the bird flu virus now becoming a potentially serious threat. We've got Marburg over in Angola, which has a kill rate of anywhere from 90 to 98 percent, depending on how you work the math and which reports you believe. Hopefully, these illnesses will never show up over in North America, Australia, or Europe, but their existence is frightening enough. We don't have to be adding to it by doing nature's job of replicating these dangerous strains. Nature does that well enough on its own. It doesn't need our help.
It's not just the pharmaceutical companies I'm talking about here, although their products are very dangerous for human health. (Let's face it, prescription drugs are killing twice as many Americans every year as the total number of Americans who died in the Vietnam War. This is a statistic from the Journal of the American Medical Association.) You've also got organized medicine killing three-quarters of a million people in the United States each year. That figure is from the "Death By Medicine" research document. In addition, you've got companies like this viral research lab blatantly increasing our risk. They're just rolling the dice, folks. They're rolling the dice with your life on the line. Perhaps this time we'll get lucky. Perhaps they'll find all of these missing vials and destroy them. Even if they do, it's just a lucky narrow escape. If you keep betting against nature, if you keep pushing the odds, sooner or later they're going to come up snake eyes. Sooner or later, nature is going to find a way to make that virus replicate in the wild. We'll only have ourselves to blame.
When you see incidents such as the "accidental" mass distribution of H2N2, it becomes all the more believable. These companies really don't know what they're doing. They don't have adequate safety measures in place. It's being operated like a fast food chain -- "Here's your order. Maybe it's everything you ordered, maybe not. Move on through the drive-thru, there are people behind you." This is the kind of attitude that obviously must be going on at these research labs. It's unacceptable, because we're playing with the lives of millions of people.
Some may say, "It's okay, because it was an accident. This company didn't mean to send that out. It was an accident." Do you think that excuse would fly with a terrorist? Do you think they would say, "Oh, I didn't mean to fly into that building. It was an accident!" Do you think that would be accepted? "We didn't mean to release sarin gas into the subway. That was a complete accident. We had no intention to do that." That excuse wouldn't be acceptable!
Personally, I think somebody needs to be nailed for this. Somebody should be held responsible, and we deserve an explanation of more than just saying, "It was an accident. Oops! We just sent out a deadly strain of influenza." I don't buy that. There is more to this story; there's a reason why this happened. There had to be a chain of mistakes all the way through the organization, a chain that could have been stopped by somebody speaking up, or somebody doing their job correctly, or somebody just doing the right thing. There wasn't a whistleblower here. So this situation happened, putting us all at risk. That is unacceptable. We should demand a better explanation than "oops!"
What's to stop them from doing it again? What's to stop another company from doing it? How do we know that other strains aren't being shipped out right now? H2N2 is only one strain among many. You've got H5N1 today, and you've got all kinds of influenza strains from the past, such as the 1929 flu, which was a huge killer. How do we know that these are being contained right now? How do we know that the institutions that claim to be researching these actually have safety measures in place? How do we know that? We don't really.
All we know is what the press tells us, which doesn't seem to be the whole story by any stretch of the imagination. Even if a deadly strain WERE accidentally released, and people were starting to get infected, you can bet the CDC and White House would force mainstream newspapers to keep the lid on the news. Why? They don't want to cause a panic. So even if this virus were in the wild right now, you couldn't count on the mainstream media to tell you the truth about it. Washington would be, "balancing truth with public safety," as they say. Or, perhaps, balancing truth with corporate profits.
Don't trust any "official" news on infectious disease. The official news is shaped to minimize panic and control the public, not to impart accurate information to individual citizens. And I'm willing to be we'll never get the true story about this global release of H2N2 by a lab that can only says, "Oops."
We got lucky this time. But when you're dealing with infectious disease, you can only thumb your nose at nature so many times.