Hungary: Fear of bio-terrorismgreenspun.com : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread
October 18, 2001 - Volume IX, Issue 42 Fear of bio-terrorism
By Gerson Perry
The Health Ministry has begun preparations for a potential biological attack directed at Hungary, Minister István Mikola said, while adding that although there was little chance of such an attack, one should be prepared.
"There is no need for the public to panic," Mikola said, stressing that people would be informed of any potential dangers.
The initiative came after letters containing anthrax were opened in workplaces in Florida, New York and Nevada in the US. More than 1,000 people have been tested for exposure since a Florida man’s death this month was traced to the bacteria.
The developments underscored mounting concern about a threat that, a few weeks ago, seemed hypothetical. On Monday, 12 people around the United States were said to either have anthrax, or been exposed to it. That did not include an NBC employee who was taking antibiotics after displaying possible symptoms of the disease.
News of the anthrax cases in America and the presence of Afghan refugees in Hungary, fueled by sensationalist media reports and the Health Minister’s comments, were raising fears in the heartland of Europe.
But as a former top official in the army’s germ-defense program said, "People don’t understand how difficult it is to pull off a biological attack."
Inhalation anthrax, the form of the disease that killed a photo-editor in south Florida, is so rare that only 18 cases were reported in the United States in the 20th century.
Much of what is known about how the disease progresses was learned from a single outbreak, in the Soviet Union in 1979, in which 79 people were known to have been infected at once from an accidental release of anthrax spores grown in a germ warfare laboratory on a military base in Sverdlovsk.
Mikola said that taking preventive measures against anthrax, the only biological weapon that could pose a realistic danger to Hungary, was a main priority.
The health staff at the Hungarian Armed Forces were being trained to detect the appearance of the anthrax bacteria. Staff told reporters there was no justification at present to obtain and distribute anthrax antibiotics, either in the army or among the civilian population.
Secret Services Minister Ervin Demeter told a closed-door committee meeting in Parliament that Mikola was correct to comment on preparations for such an eventuality because the theoretical possibility of a bio-attack could not be ruled out.
But, Socialist Party President László Kovács and others have described Mikola’s remarks as unnecessary scare-mongering.
One defense analyst agreed that Hungary may be over-reacting to the threat, but he blamed that on local and international media.
"You know, a lot of rubbish has been written about bio-chemical weapons without the slightest knowledge of the physics involved, but it sells copy," he said.
-- Martin Thompson (firstname.lastname@example.org), October 17, 2001