Johns Hopkins Scientists Warn That A Designer Virus 'Could Wipe Out 900 Million' People After Terrifying Simulation

Monday, 30 July 2018 - 1:14PM
Military Tech
Monday, 30 July 2018 - 1:14PM
Johns Hopkins Scientists Warn That A Designer Virus 'Could Wipe Out 900 Million' People After Terrifying Simulation
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A terrifying simulation by scientists at Johns Hopkins University and American politicians cast a grim spotlight on humanity's vulnerability to a major pandemic. According to Business Insider, researchers from the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security developed a scenario in which a new parainfluenza virus called "Clade X," bioengineered by a fictional terrorist organization began to spread across the globe, evading detection and diagnosis until 30 days had passed. The exercise, which lasted one day (intended to represent 20 months) and enlisted Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, Indiana Representative Susan Brooks, and former CDC Director Julie Gerberding among others, simulated a biological attack on the United States. It was modeled after the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway by the Aum Shinrikyo death cult in which 13 were killed and thousands more were injured.

Unfortunately, the participants proved to be woefully unprepared. In an interview with Business Insider, Clade X designer Eric Toner said, "I think we learned that even very knowledgeable, experienced, devoted senior public officials who have lived through many crises still have trouble dealing with something like this," adding that "it's because we don't have the systems we need to enable the kind of response we'd want to see."

Indeed, by the end of the exercise, America's underbelly was exposed as being a soft target for biological warfare: had the attack been real, there would have been 15 to 20 million dead in America, 150 million dead worldwide, and no vaccine after 20 months. The expected total fatality rate was expected to reach 900 million dead. What was not noted, at least publicly, was that an attack of this type could also irreparably damage health and homeland security infrastructure. With hospitals and morgues filled over capacity and a particularly contagious strain running unchecked, America would be significantly weakened and left vulnerable to different types of attacks. Without enough medical facilities (read: hospital beds), small or medium campaigns of violence like suicide bombings on railways, coordinated mass shootings in schools or government buildings, and dirty bomb attacks in city centers would be immensely destructive in terms of net casualties, infrastructure disruption, and psychological damage to the population. 

This is not the first time that American researchers have attempted a worst-case simulation and found themselves wanting. In 2001, a bioterrorism exercise named Dark Winter took place over two days in June (representing a 13-day timeline) at Andrews Air Force Base. Dark Winter proposed a hypothetical attack carried out with weaponized aerosol smallpox. In that scenario, the disease would have spread to at least 25 states in less than two weeks and, without mass quantities of vaccines on hand, would result in 3 million infected and 1 million dead. 

The same problems and shortcomings that existed in 2001 remain today with an even higher population density vulnerable to infection

"We don't have the ability to produce vaccines to a novel pathogen within months rather than decades," Toner noted, "and we don't have the global public health capabilities that would allow us to rapidly identify and control an outbreak before it becomes a pandemic."

As always, the cost for the government's inability to think strategically and prepare accordingly for these and other types of attacks may very well end up being paid in blood and innocent life. 

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