The New Biological Weapons: Threat, Proliferation, and Control

By Malcolm Dando | Go to book overview
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5
Bioregulatory Peptides

Table 1.1 gave the standard account of the spectrum of chemical and biological agents. Here the possible misuse of perhaps the least well known of these agents, the bioregulatory peptides, is considered. It will be recalled that these are natural substances that could cause illness if administered in abnormal amounts. A hypothetical scenario of such misuse of these midspectrum agents was given by Canadian defense analyst Murray Hamilton as part of his review of the emerging threat that was discussed in Chapter 4 (1). Hamilton's article began with a fictitious morning newspaper report: “Montreal, Canada…. Officials today are at a loss to explain the attack yesterday that left eight dead and hundreds hospitalized after an apparent exposure to a biological agent in the crowded Place de Congres” (1).

The agent had apparently been disseminated through the ventilation system of the huge building. The account continued: “The casualties are suffering from what appear to be massive cardiovascular problems, but physicians are at a loss for an explanation” (1). No causative organisms were found, but “[c]ardiovascular problems include high blood pressure, heart attacks, stroke, aneurysms and other types of unexplained bleeding” (1).

The journalist argued that, without the effective modern treatment available in a major city, the casualties and deaths could have been much greater. Even in Montreal, the account pointed out, in the absence of an identified specific causative organism, medical treatment was limited to dealing with the symptoms. All that could be established, the story went, was that during the lunch period, when the underground concourse was particularly crowded, some people had noticed a faint smoke or fog about fifteen to thirty minutes before they began to feel ill. Medical staff suggested it was fortunate that the causative agent, whatever it was, had apparently been delivered in a relatively low dosage. Therefore, they had not been totally overwhelmed by the numbers of people requiring intensive care.

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