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Australia's First Bioterrorism Attack

Now, I never condone biological warfare. It's bad ju ju and I am morally opposed to it, especially as a microbiologist. That being said however...

I find the 'attack' on the Indonesian embassy kind of amusing, in a black humour kind of way. I mean, really, I just know how sensationalised this event is going to be, and how much work is is practically going to guarantee me and people like me in the future... and it's all due to that silly girl (silly for getting caught or silly for going about the trial the way she did) Schappelle oh-what-an-odd-name-I-have Corby.

I'm not too fussed about the incident itself because, quite frankly, I'm pretty sure that the "Bacillus-type bacteral powder" is going to turn out to not be anthrax. And even if it were anthrax, the chances of it making anyone ill are pretty darn slim, particularly because I'm sure anyone who came in contact with it is already on antibiotics and thus, largely, completely protected from disease.

I mean, really, Bacillus is so dull, old-school, and really not as scary as people make out. And none-too-hard to grow, either. Cook some brown rice, then leave it in a warm place for a few days. Boom - you have yourself some Bacillus which can make people very, very sick (if they eat it). Welcome to the world of bioterrorism.

This is what people don't seem to understand. Bacteria cover everything. EVERYTHING. That whole thing about washing your hands ater you go to the bathroom? Within a couple of hours your hands are going to be covered with bacteria from your unmentionables anyway, because unless you autoclaved your hands (not advisable), you're going to leave viable bacteria/spores behind which will just grow back. Did you know that one of the nastiest lower-respiratory tract disease causing bugs is found naturally in the nose?

I mean, these people (who ever they are) aren't even *trying*. That and they have doomed the little miss Corby to certain further imprisonment - no government these days buckles under such petty threats. And what is more petty that a Bacillus?! (Well, maybe E. coli, I suppose...) For the love of Koch, Australia is host to one of the most unpleasant non-heamorrhagic visuses I have ever heard of from a readily easily-accessable source - much easier than growing enough Bacillus spores to make a frightening amount of 'white powder of biological origin'.

I am full of contempt for the entire situation. Although, I tip my hat to the emergency responce teams; they seem to have done an excellent job.


Jun. 3rd, 2005 12:57 am (UTC)
Heh. Fooled you. I'm not a straight chemist. I'm a Chemist/Biochemist, double major. I used to teach Microbiology to Environmental Health Inspectors :)

But we kind of agree that it's not predictable, and that it's a numbers game. I agree that you can't *positively* control exposure to pathogens, but you can *negatively* control exposure by reducing the particle count. And the less particles (bacterial/viral/whatever) that you come in contact with the less *chance* you'll get an infection or get sick. It's the difference between someone turning their head when they sneeze versus doing it into your face. In both cases you'll undoubtedly inhale aerosol containing mucosal flora, but in one case there is far less chance you'll get sick because of reduced exposure.

I'm on the fence about the "exposure" to pathogens bit. Sounds fun until someone dies. I'd let my baby eat pretty much any non-faecal matter they found on floor, so there I'm in agreement. A mature immune system in an adult? Not quite as robust as a youngsters...I'd tend to be more careful.

We used to do some great experiments with the first years. Touch their hand to an agar plate. Get them to go wash it. Touch another agar plate. Incubate. Watch their faces the next week when their results show more bacteria on the *washed* hand. Thinking about that experiment made me do some more experiments of my own and changed my hand-washing habits.

We'd also get them to drop open plates in public areas for 15 minutes to catch airbornes. It was during one of these sessions I took a sterile swab and sterile water and swabbed down the inside door handle of the mens loo. I then just used the swab to plate out. That was scary and funny at the same time.

The final years had a great prac - get foodstuffs from around the university, process them in a "stomacher", then culture the supernatent and do taxonomy on what grew. You could *guarantee* E.Coli in the cream buns, Lysteria in pre-packed fish-fingers and Salmonella Typhimurium(sp?) in any salami you'd care to buy. One year we even got some Klebsiella and Clostridium.

I'm rambling. Sorry.