Is the world heading towards bio-warfare?
by Ashok B Sharma on 03 Apr 2020 3 Comments

The present spread of novel Corona virus, COVID-19, across the globe has infected thousands and sent many to death, with casualties rising daily. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has termed the disaster as pandemic. The virus has spread to about 196 countries in six continents. The news of lockdown is coming from countries across the globe every day, and causing huge loss to the world economy. The alarming situation calls for hard thinking. Was the outbreak intentional or spontaneous?


In late December 2019, the outbreak occurred in Wuhan province in central China and caused the deaths of thousands of people. The Chinese government has reported deaths of over 3,000 and claims to have stopped its spread after three months. In Italy, the toll is over 10,779; in Spain 7,340 and Iran 2,757 (and rising). The US which is struggling to deal with 142,793 cases of infection and 2,490 dead has accused China of intentionally exporting “Chinese virus” to the world. China has tried to defend itself, claiming that the US Army “brought the epidemic to Wuhan” and demanding “an explanation”.


The debate became charged after Chinese doctor Li Wenliang sounded the alert about a new sickness, was threatened with arrest, but died on February 7, 2020. The police later revoked its admonishment and tendered a “solemn apology” to his family, according to China News Service, March 17, 2020.


Meanwhile, China has reported the death of a person from Yunnan province by Hanta virus while on his way back to Shandong Province for work on a chartered bus. Hanta virus is not new; it is from rodents and has a mortality rate of 50 per cent.

American lawyer Larry Klayman and his advocacy group Freedom Watch and a Texas company Buzz Photos have filed a law suit in a US district court in Northern District in Texas against the Chinese government, Chinese Army and Major General Chen Wei, Wuhan Institute of Virology and its director, Shi Zhergli, claiming damages of $20 trillion. The petitioners have accused China of aiding and abetting death, provision of material support to terrorists, conspiracy to cause injury and death of US citizens, negligence, wrongful death, and assault and battery. They alleged that the virus was released by Wuhan Institute of Virology and was “designed” to kill mass populations. They claimed China suppressed the fact and tried to silence the whistle blowers.


No medicine or vaccine has been developed so far for the cure of this disease, nor is there a perfect toolkit to detect COVID-19. China claims it has developed a suitable vaccine which is under clinical trials.


Viruses and bacteria of fungi can be genetically engineered and multiplied in labs to be used as weapons of bioterrorism. Genetic engineering makes them more virulent. Poisonous chemicals and gases can also be used in such dangerous warfare even though there are several global treaties to prevent their misuse.


The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has categorized several bio-weapons as per their potential threat. In Category A are Anthrax bacteria, Dengue, Ebola, small pox and Tularemia viruses. In Category B are Chikungunya, influenza and Zika viruses. Category C includes emerging pathogens and pathogens that are made more pathogenic by genetic engineering, including Hanta virus, Nipah virus, tick-borne encephalitis and haemorrhagic fever viruses, yellow fever virus and multidrug-resistant bacteria.


Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) is caused by an animal virus and its outbreak among humans occurred in Guangdong province in China in 2002, and the virus is a potential bio-weapon.


Some scientists say the most dangerous bio-weapon can be Marburg virus which can be easily isolated and used. Next is the Hanta virus from Bunyaviridae family of viruses which has mortality rate of 50 per cent. Anthrax disease causing bacteria, Bacillus anthracis, found naturally in the soil, causes serious infectious disease. Anthrax was used as a deadly bio-weapon in World War I.


Smallpox virus was used as a biological weapon during the French and American Indian War (1754-67) by the commander of Fort Pitt. Soldiers distributed blankets that had been used by smallpox patients to spread the disease among American Indians.


Yersinia pestis, a causative agent for plague, can be used in an aerosol attack. The bacteria Vibrio cholera has been investigated as a biological weapon. Some antibiotics work against the bacteria Francisella tularensis (that causes tularemia), but strains resistant to these antibiotics can be used as weapons of biological warfare.      


Bird flu viruses, H5N1 and H7N9, have moved from poultry to humans in the past. Though antiviral drugs like Oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and Zanamivir (Relenza) can control H5N1 strain, there is no vaccine against H7N9 type of Avian flu. The current strain of H1N1 originated in pigs and then transmitted to birds and humans.


Japanese encephalitis, West Nile, Zika, Chikungunya, Dengue, malaria, yellow fever are mosquito-borne diseases, transmitted by female mosquitoes of species Aedes aegypti and Ae, altopictus. Dengue is caused by DENV-1, DENV-2, DENV-3 and DENV-4 viruses. Reston virus is known to cause Ebola disease, but its spread is believed to involve direct contact with an infected wild animal or fruit bats, monkey species, chimpanzees, gorillas, baboons and brown antelopes. Any food touched or partially eaten by these animals or birds should be avoided. Nipah virus is also transmitted through fruit bats, which in turn infect pigs, dogs and horses. Escherichia coli, a bacteria caused by eating contaminated food, can also be used as a bioweapon.      


There have been outbreaks of these virus and bacteria causing diseases in the past. The world, therefore, has stocks of these viruses, bacteria and fungi, for medicinal research. But they can be genetically modified and multiplied in labs for potential biowarfare.

The views expressed are personal

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