If we make a general and simplistic division between all the logical and intuitive ideas regarding the implementation of the Only One Solution idea, then the biological route, is probably the first that comes to mind. But as primal and intuitive as pathogens are, if you read all of our practical implementation documents attached to the "What Can I Do" question in our FAQ, you'll find that it is definitely not the only one. In this document, however, we want to focus on pathogens precisely because they are the first tendency and because we feel that many activists might be disappointed after a brief study of the past pandemics and their consequences.
You all know that pandemics broke out throughout history and none of them wiped out the human race. But this fact doesn't qualify them as irrelevant to our sufferingless world pursuit, because when inspecting the past pandemics we must examine much more than the final death toll.
Many factors influence the outcome and some are more meaningful than the pathogen traits. Same pathogen in different areas or different times can cause whole different results since factors such as: hygiene, population natural immunity, population density, population mobility, season, area's climate, if there were other recent pathogens outbursts, area's medicine level, area's readiness for states of emergency, food and drugs reserves and many other factors, influence the final outcome, other than the pathogen's traits.
If for example a specific pathogen that caused one of the pandemics in history, broke out in a different place, at a different time or even in the same place at a different time, it could have been stopped much earlier or it could have spread so fast that by the time humans figure out what it was and how to stop it, it would be too late.
When examining the past pandemics we shouldn’t only look at what happened but also at what could have happened. Learning from the past is obviously very important but the technological development is so fast and so vast that you must take the past figures in the right proportions. Past pandemics were not premeditated but natural random outbreaks. A well planned intended operation can bring a totally different outcome.
It may be possible to choose different environmental factors than the ones that prevented the spread of a pathogen or to change the pathogen's traits to overcome the obstacles that prevented its spread in the past.
Pathogens hold great possibilities and with today’s technology they could even be improved to hold the combined advantages of several pathogens by genetic engineering.
Sometimes the pathogen advantages can be very small but very meaningful, for instance when smallpox spread in Sweden in 1963, one of the reasons it took so long for the doctors to understand that it was smallpox (which was a known disease then) is that smallpox has symptoms that resemble other diseases which are much more common, so the doctors who didn’t expect smallpox and had other options possible for those symptoms, assumed it was something else. At first they thought it was a simple flu and then they thought it was chickenpox, even though the symptoms that appeared did not fit the chickenpox symptoms exactly. The doctors were so fixated on diseases they usually meet, that they did not inspect the symptoms thoroughly enough and sent their patients home with a flu diagnose. Even a man that had the same symptoms as his wife, who died a short time before, was sent home with "a flu". Being so self-assured, it took the doctors a very long time until they decided to send a sample of the virus for a check and only then they understood it was smallpox.
This is not a sporadic case, more "convenient" diagnoses occur all the time.
So, deliberately combining a lethal pathogen with a familiar one, with familiar symptoms is a clever deception and a very interesting option that can cause a crucial delay, if not a total forestallment of the attempt to understand and control the pandemic.
Another interesting feature about smallpox is that the virus attacks in waves.
In the first few days of the epidemic a lot of people get infected but then there is a lull of two weeks which is followed by the second wave which could be 10 times more infectious than the first one. Then comes another two weeks lull and then the third wave which is 10 times more infectious than the second one.
This is a known phenomenon in the case of smallpox, but if this illusive behavior is shifted into a new and unknown pathogen, it would be very hard to diagnose and all the more so to control.
Another great advantage of the earlier mentioned smallpox virus is its spread rate. The smallpox virus (Variola major virus) is transmitted very fast and can pass through air (airborne) and infect in closed settings. This is much more meaningful today than it was in the past, since humans spend much more time in closed areas and since the population is much denser than in the past.
An even more significant factor than density is mobility. Most of the pandemics broke in eras when the human race was much less mobile. With around 50,000 flights per day and about 3 million humans traveling from place to place, with 2.74 million people who cross international borders every single day and 700 million who work outside of their country, nowadays the pathogens’ distribution potential is incomparable in relation to the times of the big pandemics outbreaks.
The SARS pandemic started with one man who got infected at a rural province in china called Guangdong, in November 2002. Soon many people in that province got infected but the disease probably didn’t spread out of Guangdong. In late February 2003 a physician who treated people with atypical pneumonia (not knowing yet it was SARS) got infected and unknowingly dispersed the disease outside Guangdong to Hong Kong where he infected at least 6 people in the hotel he stayed in. Three of them were from Singapore and one was from Canada, each brought the pandemic to their country. The fifth person, a local Hong Kong resident, went to the hospital and caused a huge outbreak in Hong Kong, and the sixth is an Asian-American business man who brought the disease to Hanoi (Vietnam) where he infected at least half of the health care workers who treated him.
The disease spread to 26 countries in 3 months and to 5 continents in 5 months.
SARS was spread unintentionally by infected people who didn’t know they carry it. Think how fast pathogens can be spread if the course of events is not left to chance and instead is determined by elaborated planning.
Even back at 1918 when humans' mobility was much less intensive than today's, it still was a great factor in the Spanish flu outbreak which passed through Northern America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and the South Pacific by trade routes, shipping lines and of course the First World War which accelerated the spread of the disease as a result of the mass movements of soldiers.
Experts say that if there was a smallpox outbreak today it would, due to modern travel, spread across the world in 6 weeks only.
Another aspect that should be taken into consideration for that matter is the population immunity. In the 17th century when the European conquers reached America, up to 95% of its native population was wiped out (in some places 100%) by the diseases the conquers brought with them. The natives mostly died of smallpox, a disease they never met before and therefore were not immune to.
Since 1975 humans are not vaccinated against smallpox, and since they never got the disease, the population is barely immune. As bio-warfare experts often state a society that hasn't been exposed to the pathogens for a few decades is much more vulnerable. Some claim that today there are more vulnerable people in the world than there ever were in the last 1,500 years.
And of course, when facing totally new pathogens, all humans can be as vulnerable as the Native Americans were to smallpox.
Maybe even more important than the pathogens’ characteristics and the fact that the human population is more dense and that humans travel much more (more humans to greater distances), is the egoistic, nationalistic, racist, inconsiderate, greedy and manipulative human character.
You might think that if a pandemic threatens humanity then humans and nations would join hands to fight the danger together. You might expect that money and politic dominance would not be considered at times like these. You might think that things would be handled much better than in the past. But they are not and SARS again is a good example.
The first case of SARS was in china in November 2002, but the Chinese did not inform the World Health Organization (WHO) that an epidemic might be starting until February 2003, for political and financial reasons, fearing the same reactions that took place in the plague outbreak in India 8 years earlier (further in the text).
In addition, the Chinese government insisted on representing the 23 million Taiwanese people in the WHO and forbad Taiwan government's participation, because china (People Republic of China - PRC) does not recognize Taiwan (Republic Of China - ROC) as an independent country and refuse to this day that Taiwan will have a seat in the WHO, even as an observer. Taiwan, which was one of the most epidemic effected areas in the world, did not receive direct advice from the WHO. Even though the ROC government actively reported the situation to the WHO, the authority received SARS information only through the WHO website.
Under pressure from the PRC, Taiwan was excluded from several major SARS conferences held by the WHO.
Another example is the Spanish flu which struck in 1918 during the First World War.
The flu is called Spanish not because it started in Spain and not because it affected Spain more than other countries. The reason is that Spain was one of the few countries that didn't take part in the First World War and so didn’t have the political incentive to conceal the disease like the rest of the countries who didn't want their enemies to know they were struck by the disease.
This concealing of the disease is one of the reasons that allowed it to spread as it did. The population was not informed of the pandemic and there were no steps taken to control it. To prevent what might have been a military disadvantage, the politicians preferred to deceive their citizens and soldiers and actually murder them, since obviously, everything is better than to show signs of weakness.
Based on the obvious notion that public health is much less important than winning a war and moreover boasting it, the Americans ignored the rumblings of a killer flu, and organized numerous rallies, speeches, parades, and marches, which are exactly the types of activities a community seeking to protect itself from an epidemic would try to avoid. The Americans found themselves in the grip of a fever of the patriotic variety, expressed in actions that greatly exacerbated the spread of the flu.
In an irresponsible, flagitious and fascist act, Americans have endangered their citizens' health and lives in the name of nationality and patriotism. For example a "Win The War for Freedom" parade that marched through the streets of Boston in 1918, featured 4,000 men, including 1,000 sailors from Commonwealth Pier and 200 civilian Navy and shipyard workers. This rousing display of patriotism did little to end the war, and much to spread the deadly flu. The epidemic had now moved beyond the confines of the military and into the general population.
Another case showing how funding the war effort and showing one's patriotic pride took absolute precedence over concern for public health, happened on September 28th in Philadelphia where 200,000 humans gathered for a 4th Liberty Loan Drive.. Just days after the parade, 635 new cases of influenza were reported. Two days later, the city was forced to admit that epidemic conditions did exist. Schools and churches were ordered to close along with all places of "public amusement". Members of the press condemned the closings as a violation of common sense and personal freedom. Meanwhile, the numbers of the sick and dying continued to grow. By mid-October their numbers ran into the hundreds of thousands. Hospitals quickly reached full capacity.
Another example proving that there are many other factors taken into consideration and even actually directing the course of action in emergency situations, other than the safest and fastest way to end and control the epidemic, occurred in a plague outbreak in India in 1994. What determined the actions taken were financial and political interests, not public health. Some of the actions actually accelerated the spread, instead of helping to control it.
The Indian authorities censored the information regarding the epidemic trying to significantly minimize reports regarding the scope and severity of the plague. They didn’t want the epidemic to affect tourism (especially since it was just before the holiday season) which is a major financial business in India. The Indian authorities also refused to seal the area of the epidemic so workers will come to work and the production won't be harmed.
For political reasons, local leaders did not take early action to stop the outbreak, since plague is largely a disease connected to the slum-living poor.
And when people heard rumors that the city of Surat (one of the places stricken by the epidemic) would be quarantined, over 300,000 people deserted the city in two days, some were already infected with plague. Pharmacists and physicians bought large amounts of antibiotics and left the city with their families and the medications. The entire stock of tetracycline (antibiotic that is used to treat plague) was depleted within hours, and many nurses and physicians did not come to work, so people who could not leave the city were left with no treatment at all.
This was a very small epidemic, not many people were killed or infected but still all the systems have collapsed. There was no rational thinking, no caring for others, no fellowship and no organized management. As always money and political interests come first.
The way humans handle emergencies is a good reason why to annihilate the human race, not only why it is possible to annihilate this selfish egocentric race.
There is no doubt that the medicament technology was improved along the years but from every other aspect pandemics are much more dangerous than ever.
Countries don’t hold enough drugs to deal with a pandemic and have difficulty producing and administering vaccines quickly enough to fight it.
If a pandemic of influenza breaks out it would take more than a year to vaccinate less than a half of the humane population. And given the limited medicinal resources, if there is an outbreak of a number of pathogens at once then the time frame for vaccine production would obviously be significantly longer. And even that is only relevant in cases when the vaccines are already known.
Also the health systems don’t have enough medical teams and enough places and machinery to accommodate the sick. In the US between 80% and 90% of the medical ventilators are in use at any given time (and during a routine influenza season even more than that) which leaves no medical ventilators to be used in a time of a pandemic.
Based on the far and recent pandemic cases, the drugs would be depleted and the health care people would not stay to treat the sick fearing they might infect themselves and their own families. Countries would not join hands but the other way around, money and power will dictate the actions taken and in general it would be every country and every man to themselves.
In the case of a big pandemic outbreak like the Spanish flu for instance, the system would collapse and the ability to stop the spread won’t be much better than it was in 1918, the same as the 1918 management was no different than in the Black Death in the 14th century.
"I’m not sure we’ll handle it terribly much better than the people of the medieval ages. We don’t have a lot of redundancy in the system we don’t have surge capacity if something goes wrong, the capacity is not there to really handle it" said Dr Richard Johnson from the Johns Hopkins University.
Victor Vaughan, a former president of the American Medical Association pointed out that the doctors of 1918 "knew no more about the flu than 14th-century Florentines had known about Black Death."
And according to Dr. Michael T. Osterholm, Director for the Center for Infectious Disease Research & Policy (CIDRAP), we’re not in a much better shape today.
He explains why 21st century medical advances are not expected to be significant in the next pandemic: "We really have no armamentarium today that is any different on a whole than what we had 100 years ago, at least in terms of what’s available to the world’s population. We have vaccines, we have some antiviral, but they will be in such insufficient quantities as to be what we like to say filling Lake Superior with a garden hose in overall impact"
All the pandemics were spontaneous and random outbreaks or at least unpremeditated outbreaks of pathogens with nonobligatory disadvantages that a guiding hand with modern technology and preplanning can overcome and therefore a premeditated pandemic result will be totally different than the ones that occurred so far.
We should keep in mind that these pathogens where not used intentionally to cause a pandemic and still they were very hard to stop, the Spanish flu for example killed 50 -100 million people in just one year and spread all over the world.
The Black Death pandemic in Europe was started by the tartar army who tossed corpses infected with plague to the city of Crimea that was under siege, as a biological weapon. The result was the spread of the pandemic to all of Europe and the death of one third to two thirds of the continent’s population.
In this case, plague was used as a biological weapon but no biological or genetical manipulations were made over the bacteria and the disease was never intended to spread further. The tartar army only wanted to subdue the city of Crimea but caused the spread of one of the severest pandemics in the history of Europe.
These organisms, as efficient as they are in their natural version, hold a much greater and wider potential.
It is known that for decades, military facilities in different parts of the world created and manufactured "weaponries" version of just about all the notorious pathogens known to humanity and we have no reason to believe it doesn’t continue today.
In the words of C.J. Peters, an infectious diseases expert that for the last 30 years worked for the U.S. Army and the CDC (Center for Disease Control): "all the steps needed to use certain viruses and bacteria as weapons of mass destruction have been carefully evaluated and found to be workable".
He also said referring to the 6 "Category A bioterrorism agents" (anthrax, smallpox, plague, botulism, tularemia and viral hemorrhagic fevers, including among others the Ebola and Marburg virus) "Every one of these agents has been weaponized by the U.S. or the Soviets or both. Each one of them is known to have been aerosolized, and each has a high morbidity rate and mortality rate."
As a part of the famous arms race during the cold war both the US and the Soviet Union armies have been conducting many researches on several pathogens with a potential to be used as biological weapons.
During this era, the US accumulated plague for its arsenal but feared to use it, knowing they won't be able to control it once it is out.
We don’t have these boundaries, because we are not trying to infect only a specific part of the human population.
Both the US and the Soviet Union (especially the Soviet Union) developed means of weaponizing pneumonic plague. This type of plague is a rapidly fatal disease (nearly 100% fatality rate if not treated within 24 hours of onset of symptoms), highly contagious and airborne (can spread from person to person through the air).
Experiments by the Soviet Union included, various delivery methods, vacuum drying, sizing the bacterium, developing strains resistant to antibiotics, combining the bacterium with other diseases (such as diphtheria), and other genetic engineering. Scientists who worked in USSR bio-weapons programs have stated that the Soviet effort was formidable and that large stocks of weaponized plague bacteria were produced.
The CDC wrote: "Why are we concerned about pneumonic plague as a bioweapon?
Yersinia pestis used in an aerosol attack could cause cases of the pneumonic form of plague... Because of the delay between being exposed to the bacteria and becoming sick, people could travel over a large area before becoming contagious and possibly infecting others. Controlling the disease would then be more difficult.
A bioweapon carrying Y. pestis is possible because the bacterium occurs in nature and could be isolated and grown in quantity in a laboratory"
The CDC added in regards to prevention of pneumonic plague "no plague vaccine is available in the United States. Research is in progress, but we are not likely to have vaccines for several years or more."
Based on the potential to cause widespread illness and death, Hemorrhagic Fevers Viruses (HFVs) are another category A bioweapon agents according to the CDC classifications. They are considered fearful since there are limited strategies either to prevent or treat these infections.
All four known Ebola strains have displayed the ability to spread through airborne particles (aerosols) under research conditions, and there are evidences outside of the labs as well.
In 1995, during an Ebola outbreak in Kikwit, Zaire, the New York Times wrote referring to a natural mutation of the virus: "it is not hard to imagine an outbreak that could threaten the globe. A modest genetic change might enable Ebola to spread rapidly through the air and infected travelers could spread the virus widely before anyone realized they were sick."
The lethal Marburg virus, Ebola’s closest relative, was made airborne as well according to scientists from the former Soviet Union.
Smallpox was the prime candidate to be weaponized, especially past 1977. Intensive genetic engineering work was done upon the most potent natural strains (like the India and Bangladesh strains that killed close to 50% of the infected humans).
Biowarfare experts believe that strains far more lethal than natural forms were developed by Soviet scientists. The India-1smallpox for example reached 90% fatality rate among non-vaccinated humans. As of 1998, it has been estimated that less than 15% of the US population is immune, and most of them are rather old.
Merely improving the pathogen’s ability to travel by air and efficiently disseminate in tiny aerosol droplets is considered a terrifying leap. But much more than that was already achieved. The most interesting genetic engineering project involved combining the smallpox virus with other pathogens. Among those was the alleged merge of smallpox and Ebola to produce a hemorrhagic form of Smallpox with a case fatality rate of 100%.
The medical journals that published the Soviet researches led to the conclusion that the genetic combination of these two pathogens that before was dismissed as a myth, was successful.
So even the one aspect that humanity did improve throughout history - the medicament technology, is actually fallacious because technology is a two-edged sword. With biological engineering the pathogen traits can be changed to fit our needs.
Throughout history, pandemics and epidemics have wiped out entire populations and significantly reduced many others. Pathogens are responsible for more human deaths than any other cause. Neither one have wiped out the entire world’s population but when taking into consideration the state of affairs during the big pandemics from all aspects, there is no doubt that despite their past outcome, they hold great potential.
Biodefense experts know, based on prior record and trends of the future, how severely dangerous pathogens are. The censored publication "Nonproliferation Issues for Weapons of Mass Destruction", by Mark Prelas, Michael Peck and Marcel Dekker (Sep 2004) summed it up- "Unlike technologies of the past, which did not possess the capability, biotechnology does have the capability of destroying mankind."
Humanity will never be protected from pathogens. These organisms are constantly going through natural rapid and diverse changes, and as we exhibit in this document, technology holds in store so much potential and so many options, that we definitely don't need to lay our hopes on nature, hoping that some day it will just happen, we can bring that day ourselves.