<< contents

CURRENT PROBLEMS OF BIOLOGICAL SAFETY

A.A. Vorobyev

Moscow Medical Academy named after I.M. Sechenov

It is the opinion of many famous politicians, including President of the Russian Federation V.V. Putin, that global terrorism has become one of the acutest problems of mankind.

Actually the third World War has begun and this war has assumed the nature of global terrorism. The ideologists and direct executors of terrorist attach great significance to biological means as demonstrated by the application of spores of anthrax in the USA .

Therefore it is necessary to be ready not to admit the use of bioagents for terrorist purposes and to liquidate fast and professionally the consequences in case of a terrorist act.

I will allow myself to dwell on some basic moments regarding the bioagents, capability of their use in bioaggression and on the main directions of response to bioterrorism, which is necessary to accomplish as soon as possible.

We live in a world of microorganisms. They play an important role in the formation of vital processes in biosphere, such as gas composition of atmosphere, fertility of soils, formation of subsoil waters, they participate in a food cycle, provide self-cleansing of the planet. Microflora of human organism is of great significance.

However, alongside with these useful functions microorganisms cause huge damage to human health, carrying away millions of people's lives. About 70 % of all registered illnesses relates to infectious diseases. Yearly about 16 millions people of more than 50 million die because of infectious diseases.

Moreover, microorganisms, directly or mediatorially, provoke illnesses which are not related to infectious diseasesew32, first of all malignant neoplasmes, allergies, nervous and mental illnesses, endocrine and cardiovascular diseases.

Already in the Middle Ages, before the discovery of microorganisms, when people understood empirically, that some illnesses can be transmitted from the diseased person to the healthy person, there was an idea to use corpses or household goods of diseased person for infection of other people, for example, while laying siege to fortresses.

After microorganisms and their role in the origin of illnesses and epidemics were discovered, especially those epidemics which devastated whole territories, the idea to use them for military purposes got fundamental development.

Thus, microorganisms represent real threat to health and lives of the population of the planet. In this way there is a problem of microbiological danger in its own right, which is frequently identified with biological danger.

In our opinion, under biological danger one should understand causing damage to health of the individual or a group of persons, or population as a whole by a natural or directed infection using such biological agents, as bacteria, viruses, fungi, protozoa or toxins.

The biological safety may be defined as a complex of special, organizational, economic and political measures directed to the prevention or liquidation of consequences of natural influence or deliberate application of bioagents with the purpose of incapacitating of people. The bioterrorism is a deliberate secretive application of bioagents with the purpose of incapacitating people and with the purpose of psychological effect on the population.

Hence, the biological safety is reduced, mainly, to microbiological safety, as the adverse effect of other biological objects on the people (bites of poisonous insects, snakes, vegetable poisons, attack of beasts of pray etc.) does not play an important role in the life of a person, furthermore the adverse effect of other biological objects on the people cannot be used as a weapon.

Fundamental studies and developments of biological weapons (BW) began in the first half of ХХ century, especially in 40-s years in the period " of cold war ". It was necessary to have an alternative to the nuclear weapon. Leaders in the development of BW were Japan, the USA, England and other countries. These studies were especially intensified in the USA after the creation of a nuclear bomb in the USSR, as the USA expected to have gain superiority in the production weapon of mass destruction, which was BW. Special centers, institutes, laboratories, proving grounds, industrial facilities for development and production of biological weapons were created in the USA.

In case of using BW the USA gave priority to offensive tactics.

Apologists of BW (information from the monograph of Roseberry, Rotshild etc.) proceeded from "advantages", which are supposedly inherent in the biological weapon. In their opinion, BW is capable to cause mass destruction of the people without destruction of cities, industrial and cultural objects, i.e. it is a "humane" weapon. It does not require large armies and expensive engineering for offensive operations, it is silent and bloodless, it is extremely cheap and accessible for the underdeveloped countries ("the weapon of poor countries"). It is possible to provide the attacking party with preventive protection.

BW is considered as the weapon of mass destruction of people and as a suitable means for terrorist plans both strategic and tactical purposes. BW can be applied by various methods, the most effective method is a aerosol way. It is possible to apply BW by spreading it in water and food, through the infected goods, infected carriers, and also through infectious patients.

In reply to the development of BW in the USA and other countries, methods of responses to threats have begun to be developed in the USSR since the 40-th years. A number of institutes was created within system of Ministry of defense of the USSR. The laboratories and institutes of Ministry of health of the USSR, Ministry of agriculture of the USSR, Academy of science of the USSR, Academy of medical science of the USSR were involved in the solution of problems of biosafety.

A number of original and effective preventive and medical preparations were developed.

The works on counteraction to BW essentially enhanced the level of antiepidemical protection of our country.

In 1972 the United Nations Organization adopted "The Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction". This convention was put into use in 1975. More than 25 years have passed, however, unfortunately it is necessary to ascertain, that the effective system of control of The Convention has not been created. There were a set of versions, the last version, examined in 2001, was also far from perfect because of unwieldy volume, ambiguity of requests, necessity of granting of numerous superfluous items of information, and what is more it included the control of studies of hundreds species of bacteria and viruses, many of which are exotic and can cause damage in rare cases.

In my opinion, it is necessary to compile a list of microorganisms, which represent the greatest danger in case of their use as BW before developing a system of control. For this purpose a method of criterion\rating was developed for an estimation of probability of use of bioagents as a means of BW attack in the beginning of the 90-th. The basis for this method is the concept that a bioagent, the use of which is possible as BW, should correspond to a complex of criteria taking into account both the biological properties of microorganisms as well as interrelations of the bioagent with macroorganism, with the environment, along with technological, technical and economic parameters determining the possibility of the creation of BW on this basis.

This complex of criteria for natural microorganisms as well as for synthetic bioagents, which can be used both for mass incapacitating of people, and the terrorist purposes, is illustrated in table 1. The degree of force of each criterion is estimated at a five-mark scale: a high degree - 4-5; moderate - 2-3; low - 1; absence - 0

Table 1. The criteria of estimation of application bioagents probability

A group of main human pathogenic bioagents (bacteria, viruses, toxins) was analyzed using these criteria. The results of the analysis provides a possibility of assigning the rating of each bioagent, that is the summary of marks classifying the degree of probability of use of the bioagent as a mean of BW. According to the ratings the bioagents were distributed into 3 groups (see table 2): group 1- bioagents with high probability of use as a means of a BW; group 2 - bioagents with moderate probability of use as a means of BW; group 3 - it is unlikely that these bioagents will be used as a means of BW.

Table 2. The distribution of bioagents among groups according to probability of use them as a means of BW

1 group
(high probability)
2 group
(moderate probability)
3 group
(low probability)

Smallpox
Plague
Anthrax
Botulism
VEH
Tularemia
Q-fever
Marburg fever
Influenza
Glanders
Typhus

Cholera
Bruceliosis
Japanese encephalitis
Yellow fever
Tetanus
Diphtheria
Hydrophobia
Typhoid fever
Dysentery
Staphylococcosis
AIDS
Parenteral hepatitises and others

Hence, the main attention should be given to bioagents of the first and partially of the second group. The agents of contagious infections represent particular danger in the first group, and first of all the agents of smallpox and plague, which can cause global epidemics (pandemia) with numerous victims and paralyze life of a country and whole continents in connection with the necessity of introduction of strict quarantine.

The virus of smallpox is the most dangerous agent among others. As is known, the collection of smallpox virus is reliably stored in the USA and in Russia according to recommendation of WHO. However there is information, that virus of smallpox is stored uncontrollably in some countries and can spontaneously (or deliberately) leave the laboratories.

The population of the planet has lost smallpox immunity in connection with the fact that vaccination against the disease has ceased since 1980. Production of a vaccine, diagnostic preparations in necessary quantities is terminated. Effective drugs for treatment practically are absent, death-rate constitutes 30 % among unvaccinated people. Virus of smallpox is easily transmitted from diseased person to a healthy one. Long incubation (about 17 days) promotes sprending of infection to large regions through modern fast and numerous means of communication.

It is possible to assume, that if bioterrorists had used virus of smallpox in place of anthrax and had created 12 nidi of infection in the USA in October 2001 consequences would have been catastrophic.

Thus it is completely correct that particular measures are taken for prevention of threat of challenge by smallpox virus in the USA: production of vaccine is founded, modern methods of diagnostics and treatment are developed, the question of mass vaccination is under decision. In our country a concept of counteraction to bioterrorism with due regard to probability of its application that or any other agent also is created. However, for the reliable guaranteed exclusion of capability of application of bioagents both for mass destruction of people or for bioterrorist purposes, in our opinion, it is necessary:

  1. To develop a system of effective control and counteractions to bioterrorism in all its forms;
  2. To develop the uniform, global international program of counteraction to biological weapon
  3. In our country to restore a system of anti-bacterial protection which existed until the 90-th;
  4. To develop a Federal law on biosafety;
  5. To develop a presidential program on biological safety and to create a group of experts on the implementation of this program at President's office;
  6. To have a program of counteraction to bioterrorism and necessary stocks of means and methods of diagnostics, prophylaxis and treatment of dangerous infections in each region of our country;
  7. To popularize the necessary activities on biosafety in mass media;
  8. To organize courses of study especially dangerous infectious illnesses for physicians and separate groups and employers power ministries;
  9. To prepare groups of fast reaction at the Russian Federation Ministry of Health and at power ministries prepared for activity in nidi of infections.

All these measures will promote not only readiness to real counteraction to biological danger, but they will increase the level of anti-epidemical service in the country as well.

<< contents

Proceedings of First Russian Workshop on Biological Security
Copyright © Committee of Scientists for Global Security and Arms Control