08.31.17

Harvey potentially boosts vulnificus season

Posted in Bioterrorism, Culture of Lickspittle at 5:45 pm by George Smith

Although still a relatively rare hazard, the NY Times informs Harvey floodwaters could boost area Vibrio vulnficus infections:

Some Texas public health officials expect an increase in gastrointestinal problems from bacteria breeding in stagnant floodwaters that can contain Escherichia coli (E. coli), Shigella, and Vibrio vulnificus. The latter, which is present in the Gulf of Mexico, can cause terrible infections that can lead to amputations. It is harmful if swallowed or if it comes into contact with a cut.

In a report issued one month after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it had counted 24 cases of hurricane-related wounds infected with Vibrio vulnificus or its relative, Vibrio parahaemolyticus, of which six were fatal.

The danger comes from the flooding of waterways that are known to contain vulnificus in any area suggested to hurricanes.

Vibrio vulnficus — from the archives.


Most irresposible headline keyed to Harvey and vulfnicus, from Mother Jones:

If Things Weren’t Already Bad Enough, Houston Is About to Face a Public Health Nightmare
Entire neighborhoods have become contaminated and potentially toxic rivers.

A potential six cases after a disaster as widespread as Katrina in no way points to a nightmare. No link. Mother Jones provides nothing useful, in this case, other than an instance in bad headline/clickbait handwaving.

08.16.17

Vibrio vulnificus season

Posted in Bioterrorism, Culture of Lickspittle at 1:32 pm by George Smith

It’s that time of year when Vibrio vulnificus infections begin showing in the news with some regularity. V. vulnificus is the brackish water/salt water bacterium I worked on for my Ph.D. which outlined its production of a collagenolytic enzyme that might and did turn out to have something to do with the catastrophic but human illness it can cause.

From the current news wires — Vibrio vulnficus infections, mostly in Florida and along the Gulf Coast states.

Interestingly, also skin and intestinal infections caused by the presence of the bacteria in a live Tilapia fish tank at a Seattle market:

One man is in the hospital with a confirmed Vibrio vulnificus infection. He became ill July 17. His wife was also sickened, but is recovering at home. Another person, confirmed in November 2016 with an infection from Vibrio vulnificus, also ate fish from a grocery store live tank, according to the health department notice. The department described the illnesses as an outbreak.

In this case, the vibrio exists on the fish and in the tank, an experience I found to be easily possible in my research. The organism is relatively commonplace in estuarine waters and is found on the fauna. The mitigating factor is that most healthy people are not susceptible to V. vulnficus infection.

In addition, the bacterium is found in enriched presence as water temperature rises. A Tilapia tank in a market, not paid much attention to, might indeed be a good place for that.

An inection was also reported near Dunnsville in Virginia’s northern neck where a woman was thought to have acquired it while swimming in the Rappahannock river:

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that 61-year-old Jane Durvin took her grandchildren swimming on Sunday at the Rappahannock River, a day after her cat had scratched her finger.

Durvin says on Monday she was in the hospital with a swollen, throbbing hand. She says doctors diagnosed her with a vibrio infection. She says on Wednesday her middle finger turned “black and cold.” If antibiotics don’t work, Durvin’s finger may need to be amputated.

Those thought to be most vulnerable to infection are those with liver disease, a compromised immune system, or some other underlying cause associated with general infirmity.

The disease is rare, however, as noted in this newspaper piece from the Rappahannock area, dated 2000.


Vibrio vulnificus — from the archives.

Vibrio vulnficusmy doctoral work.

08.05.17

Ricin Mama gets 18 years

Posted in Bioterrorism, Crazy Weapons, Culture of Lickspittle, Ricin Kooks at 2:19 pm by George Smith

Shannon Richardson, the original ricin mama, was sentenced to 18 years in prison for making castor powder containing the toxin. Richardson mailed the powder in three letters in 2013, one of which was sent to the president.

From thw wire:

TEXARKANA, Texas – A Texas woman was sentenced Wednesday to 18 years in prison for sending ricin-laced letters to President Barack Obama and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

A federal judge gave Shannon Guess Richardson, 36, the maximum sentence under her plea deal on a charge of possessing and producing a biological toxin. She was also ordered to pay restitution. She pleaded guilty to the charge in December.

“I never intended for anybody to be hurt,” she told the court, adding later, “I’m not a bad person, I don’t have it in me to hurt anyone.”

Richardson said she thought security measures would prevent the letters from ever being opened.

Prosecutors say Richardson mailed three letters then went to police and claimed that her estranged husband, Nathan Richardson, had done it.

Richardson, who was trying to build a career as an actress had minor roles in The Walking Dead and The Blind Side.

Richardson has six children, one of whom was born after she was taken into custody in the case.

At the outset of the case she became known for a flurry of publicity pictures showing herself in a variety of fetching outfits.

Words do little to adequately describe such an unusual case. In review, then, here are pictures of Shannon Richardson and the castor powder-stained letter to the president, from “Ricin Mama:”


From the archives, Shannon Richardson.

08.03.17

Bioterrorism defense bust? Not cost-effective

Posted in Bioterrorism, Culture of Lickspittle, Ricin Kooks at 3:12 pm by George Smith

Long-term readers know the story of bioterrorism research in the United States. There was nothing that could not be funded because bioterror was inevitable and imminent. It was easy for bioterrorists to do.

Allegedly.

Fifteen years on from the anthrax mailings the US has still had only one bioterrorist.

Bruce Ivins — who was an anthrax expert from the heart of the bioterror defense establishment at Fort Detrick, Maryland.

From the Fredericksburg< Maryland, newspaper in May of this year:

A research laboratory in Frederick with few peers across the country would be closed under the proposed budget from President Donald Trump.

While the overall spending for the Department of Homeland Security increases in Trump’s budget request, that department also zeroes out funding for the National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center (NBACC) at Fort Detrick.

The news was shared in an all-staff meeting at NBACC this week after a letter from DHS confirmed an intent to shutter the laboratory by September 2018. According to the letter, all scientific research should end by March 2018 …

The NBACC is the crown jewel in the country’s elaborate and most secret network of biodefense laboratories.

The suggestion that it be closed by 2018, considering the history of its development, is nothing less than jaw-dropping.

Still, the NBACC is just criticized for failing to live up to expectations. There has been no bioterrorism and its capability is most fallow. At the time of its genesis critics argued, unsuccessfully, that the spending earmarked for it could be served equally or better by investing it in public health.

The historical context now is that a decade and a half shows bioterrorism is exceedingly difficult to mount. And other publich health threats have emerged into fully blown crises.

Death by opioid overdose now claims 33,000 lives a year, mostly a result of the widespread presence of fentanyl, a compound 50 times more powerful than morphine.

Ricin, the poison found in castor seeds and a compound the NBACC was developed to research and analyze, cannot compare to fentanyl as an active everyday public health threat.

“About 180 people work in the facility, with $21 million in annual salary and benefits and $4.5 million in annual subcontracting spending,” reads the Fredericksburg Post.

“The cut to NBACC could reflect shifting homeland security priorities under the Trump administration — in particular, the president’s call for a barrier along the Mexico border and increased border security. Overall, the Homeland Security budget increased 6.8 percent in the 2018 budget request.”

The border wall. Anti-immigration in. Bioterrorism defense after a very long run and, fortunately, non-production, is out. The differences between 2017 and 2001 could not be more stark. The NBACC’s contract was last renewed by President Obama and it is one of seven, mostly secret, such labs in the country.


Middletown, Ohio, a city under siege: ‘Everyone I know is on heroin’ — a remarkable news story on the opioid crisis in Middletown, Ohio. I direct readers to the set of graphics in which the increase in lethal overdose incidence is mapped by county, from 2010-2015. It is an astonishing and troubling ilustration of a country, primarily the rust belt and greater northeast rotting to death before your eyes.

By contrast, the hazard of bioterrorism is nonexistent.


On the NBACC, related labs and defense spending:

The country way over-invested in bioterror defense in the wake of 9/11. Free money went out for almost a decade. No results were required and none were furnished. During the time the public was bombarded with assertions that catastrophic bioterror attacks were easy to mount and likely.

None of the claims of the threat-mongers materialized. That’s zero.

Many of our most famous bioterror defense researchers grew wealthy during a period when millions of other Americans saw their economic futures languish or go up in smoke. Infrastructure repair and spending for the public good shriveled but national security spending ballooned.

The NBACC — here.

12.30.16

2016’s favorite tune from Old White Coot

Posted in Bioterrorism, Culture of Lickspittle, Ricin Kooks, Rock 'n' Roll at 1:35 pm by George Smith

Real quote: “Our team got a kick out of the Ricin Mama song,” Assistant US Atty.

11.02.16

You can’t hide on the Dark Web

Posted in Bioterrorism, Cyberterrorism, Ricin Kooks at 11:56 am by George Smith

If you’re going to do anything with real goods, illicit, dangerous, or both, you can’t hide on the Dark Web. If there’s enough manpower to investigate and it’s present at the right time, your anonymity is pierced.

From Sweden, on a recent ricin case:

A Swedish court has sentenced a 27-year-old German man to one year’s imprisonment for stealing toxic substances from a university where he was a student.

The Uppsala District Court on Friday said Gurkan Korkmaz used the alias LarryFlow to offer lethal substances like ricin on dark-web online markets, but added that it could not be proven he actually sold the substances.

Swedish police started the investigation in the fall of 2015 after receiving tips from U.S. police.

The FBI has put a not insignificant amount of resources into penetrating marketplaces on the dark web. The most public part of the operation has been the tracking, arrests and convictions of those buying and selling poisons like ricin or abrin.

Korkmaz was arrested as the supplier of a ring of blackmailers that had sent ricin letters to a government offical in the Czech Republic in hopes of extorting payment in bitcoins through the use of threats. No digital money was paid out.

From a newspaper report:

[Events] follow the initial arrest of the [Korkmaz] in April on suspicion of selling poison through the internet to a group that blackmailed a Czech minister for large sums of money.

“There was an attempt to blackmail the Czech state. There was a threat to spread different kinds of poison among the general public in the country if the state did not pay out quite a lot of money in bitcoin to the blackmailers. This man’s participation is that he is alleged to have supplied the poison,” prosecutor Henrik Söderman explained.


Swedish authorities were initially alerted to the man’s trail when the FBI notified their colleagues in Sweden that poison had been sold via a website.

The police have not yet identified the buyers …

Korkmaz did not attempt to make ricin. Instead, he stole it from a lab, one that presumably used a purified source for research.

10.23.16

Global warming good for unusual disease

Posted in Bioterrorism at 12:11 pm by George Smith

From the Washngton Post on Vibrio vulnificus:

A recent study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has shown that “rising ocean temperatures related to global warming “is strongly associated with spread of vibrios, an important group of marine prokaryotes, and emergence of human diseases caused by these pathogens.”


“In eight out of nine regions of the North Atlantic, the study found that as temperatures warmed, numbers of vibrio bacteria also grew,” The Washington Post’s Chris Mooney wrote in August. Furthermore, it also showed a relationship between growing vibrio numbers and growing vibrio cases in humans, a relationship that was particularly pronounced during heat waves.

Way back when I was the scientist who discovered a particular protein-dissolving enzyme, a collagenase, that helped explain why it does what it does.

V. vulnificus — from the archives.

09.28.16

Kid with castor beans brings the ricin squad

Posted in Bioterrorism, Culture of Lickspittle, Ricin Kooks at 12:54 pm by George Smith

From a Texas news station:

“The Athens Fire Department assisted in the weekend raid of an Athens home.

“Fire Chief John McQueary explained their involvement.

” ‘There was a situation that our HAZMAT team, they’d like us to be involved with to support federal agents…’

“McQueary describes the decontamination role his team played. ‘Our role for the Athens Fire Department was to decon their agents when they got out… Deconning is outside the hot zone.’ The hot zone of a product suspected to be ricin.

“Homeowner Richard Fulton said in a statement that his teenage son had been attempting to make ricin out of castor beans … “

Before 9/11 and Homeland Security, there were no ricin squads. Now they’re everywhere. And though it may be hard to believe castor bean harvesting used to big agribusiness in the US. Fields of castor bean plants existed and they were not lethal. People worked in castor bean processing plants. [1] AND THEY DID NOT DIE.

Those places in the world that still harvest castor don’t care about the weird war-on-terror mythologies Americans have built up concerning castor beans and ricin.

But kids, don’t get the ricin squad called to your house. It will put everything in plastic bags and tubs and haul it away.


[1]. Health Aspects of Castor Bean Dust: Review and Bibliography provides something of a look back at castor oil and castor mash production in the United States through a looking glass of health effects associated with milling. The most noticeable were allergic reactions and asthma due to a potent small allergen, separate from ricin, but also found in castor bean mash.

Allergic reactions to the dust could be severe. The government recommended control measures and the wearing of goggles in plants that milled large quantities of castor seeds

Severe clusters of allergenic illness were associated with large quantities of very powdery dust produced after treatment with organic solvents to remove the oil component.

Much less often, ricin intoxication occured, apparently due to “incautious” consumption.

No significant hazard was associated with farming castor plants.

While castor oil was the primary product, castor mash was also diverted for use as fertilizer. In 1957, castor bean agriculture and milling was done in nine states, which included a region in southern California. The review contains some medical citations of allergic reactions and eye irritations associated with use of castor as fertilizer.

Readers of the pamphlet will note the huge piles of castor powder on the docks in Marseille, France. Their existence resulted in a large outbreak of allergic illness when the wind, or “Mistral,” went the wrong way.


And, now, the only rockin’ blues song on ricin ever. Pure Americana because that’s what castor bean religion and the ricin squad are — American as, um, pie. “Ricin Mama,” then, from the “Old White Coot” LP, an absolutely true story.

09.14.16

Both were Americans

Posted in Bioterrorism, Ricin Kooks, War On Terror at 3:48 pm by George Smith

From an Associated Press story on August 23rd, on exotic weapons and emerging technologies in the hands of terrorists:

UNITED NATIONS — U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Tuesday that technological advances have made it easier for terrorist and criminal groups to obtain materials needed to make weapons of mass destruction, and some are actively trying to obtain nuclear, biological and chemical weapons to target civilians …

Gregory Koblentz, director of the Biodefense Graduate Program at George Mason University, said there are several emerging technologies that present challenges to international efforts to curb WMDs, including gene editing.

“Instead of gene drives being used to eliminate disease, they could be used to introduce new diseases into plant or animal populations,” he told the council.

Other potentially dangerous emerging technologies include the use of drones and the use of the Dark Web, which can only be accessed using special encryption software, guaranteeing anonymity to its users.

Koblentz said that in 2014 the U.S. arrested two people who had sold the toxins abrin and ricin — ricin is classified as a chemical weapon under the Chemical Weapons Convention — to customers in Austria, Canada, Denmark, England, India and the United States via a Dark Web marketplace called Black Market Reloaded.

“The global reach and anonymity of the Dark Web provides a new means for criminals and terrorists interested in dual-use equipment or materials to do business,” he said.

Black Market Reloaded was fairly quickly infiltrated by US law enforcement. Agents subsequently used identities on it to initiate sting operations involving the promised sale as well as the buying of poisons like ricin and abrin.

The two arrested on the Dark Web, specifically — users of Black Market Reloaded, were both Americans. Jesse Korff and James Christopher Malcolm.

Both accepted plea deals from the federal government with Malcolm sentenced to five years, Korff much longer.

Both were connected to the case of Ryan Chamberlain for which I served as a science consultant to the defense.

Considering the nature of the investigations and the results (there were about half a dozen arrests coming off BMR), the continued belief that the Dark Web provides anonymity in such instances is rather laughable.

09.05.16

Shut up about ricin and biowar. Carfentanil is here.

Posted in Bioterrorism, Decline and Fall, Ricin Kooks at 3:14 pm by George Smith

For the last decade and a half the American media has raised the poison found in castor seeds — ricin — to mythic proportion. And I’ve spent years doing my best to dispel the mythology.

Ricin has never been “easy to make.” And the mash of castor seeds is not a weapon of mass destruction. I’ve even been furnished expert consultations in criminal/terror cases involving it.

There is, however, a chemical that’s come to America’s white population. Carfentanil, a knock-out compound, with no real practical use other than tranquilizing elephants. And it is quite potent and already doing a great deal of harm.

From the New York Times:

Mr. Hatmaker became one of more than 200 people to overdose in the Cincinnati area in the past two weeks, leaving three people dead in what the officials here called an unprecedented spike. Similar increases in overdoses have rippled recently through Indiana, Kentucky and West Virginia, overwhelming ambulance crews and emergency rooms and stunning some antidrug advocates …

In Cincinnati, some medical and law enforcement officials said they believed the overdoses were largely caused by a synthetic drug called carfentanil, an animal tranquilizer used on livestock and elephants with no practical uses for humans. Fentanyl can be 50 times stronger than heroin, and carfentanil is as much as 100 times more potent than fentanyl. Experts said an amount smaller than a snowflake could kill a person.

The implicated carfentanil is believed to be made in Mexico or China and put into heroin shipments, probably precisely because of its power, the manufacturers believing, perhaps, that it would lead to faster addiction and complicate forensic analysis.

But this is a clear miscalculation because he drug is so powerful.

“[Police] officers and sheriff’s deputies are so concerned about the potency of carfentanil and other synthetic opioids that they carry overdose-reversing naloxone sprays for themselves, in case they accidentally inhale or touch the tiniest flake,” reads the newspaper.

The chemical activity of carfentanil and the less powerful but more common fentanil, employed to spike heroin formulations now coming into the US, has catalyzed an exploding health crisis in rural and ex-urban America.

For the numbers, which are astonishing, read the rest of the piece.

In 2002, Russian special forces used fentanil when storming a theater in Moscow where 800 people were taken hostage by Chechnyan separatists who’d rigged themselves and the building with explosives. The results were catastrophic. One hundred and seventy people were killed due to the use of it.

« Previous entries Next Page » Next Page »