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September 9, 2005

Another problem FEMA’s not on top of
Posted by Teresa at 03:24 PM * 17 comments

From MemoryBlog, via theweaselking:

Infectious Disease Research in and Around New Orleans

Summary: At the very least, there are two Level-3 biolabs in New Orleans and a cluster of three in nearby Covington. They have been working with anthrax, mousepox, HIV, plague, etc. There are surely other labs in the city.

Here’s a great tip for all reporters looking for a completely new—and extremely important—angle on the situation in New Orleans. As far as I can tell, no one has yet mentioned the biological research labs located in and around NOLA. For example, in nearby Covington, Tulane University runs the Tulane National Primate Research Center, a cluster of Level-3 biological labs containing around 5,000 monkeys, most of which are housed in outdoor cages. According to an article in Tulane University Magazine, “The primary areas of focus today at the Tulane National Primate Research Center are infectious diseases, including biodefense related work, gene therapy, reproductive biology and neuroscience. The Tulane primate center is playing a key role in the federal strategic plan for biodefense research.”

So what happened to these diseased monkeys living outside in cages? Granted, Covington didn’t get hit nearly as hard as NOLA, but it still got hit.

According to the Sunshine Project, which digs up grant proposals and other primary documents from the US biowarfare effort, “Tulane scientists are working with anthrax, plague, and other biological weapons agents.”

And how much of this kind of research was going on within New Orleans itself? Apparently quite a bit. …

If all the counsels of religion and philosophy, and all the long experience of the human race, weren’t enough to teach us that we lead interdependent lives, and that we can’t oppress and abandon our fellow critters with impunity, surely the existence of infectious diseases should do it?
Comments on Another problem FEMA's not on top of:
#1 ::: Nancy ::: (view all by) ::: September 09, 2005, 03:49 PM:

Tulane's emergency web page has reported that the Covington facility "functioning under near normal conditions". http://www.tulane.edu/past.html

#2 ::: ElizabethVomMarlowe ::: (view all by) ::: September 09, 2005, 03:58 PM:

I read a ton of dog/animal related news. I remember two things. One, some university lab researchers who were finally able to evacuate euthanized their lab animals because they couldn't take them with (and they'd drown/starve). It wasn't Tulane, I don't think. Two, two NOPD dogs drank some open water and died within a couple of hours.

I wonder if some of those diseases are mosquito borne?

#3 ::: Rana ::: (view all by) ::: September 09, 2005, 04:00 PM:

Can I just say that this terrifies me more than anything else I've seen written about the disaster and its mismanagement? And I've been reading a lot that's made me quite anxious, ranging from civil liberties issues to environmental pollution to press censorship...

#4 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 09, 2005, 04:06 PM:

Nasty stuff, plague. Even if you treat it aggressively with Very Large Antibiotics, you can still lose appendages -- both legs, say, or all your fingers.

#5 ::: Mark Z. ::: (view all by) ::: September 09, 2005, 04:45 PM:

[delurking for a moment]

Level 3 safety doesn't allow animals to be housed in outdoor cages, or outdoor anything. CDC sez:

"The animal facility is separated from areas that are open to unrestricted personnel traffic within the building. Access to the facility is limited by a self-closing and self-locking door. This exterior entry door may be controlled by a key lock, card key, or proximity reader. Entry into the animal room is via a double-door entry which includes a change room and shower(s). An additional double-door access (air-lock) or double-doored autoclave may be provided for movement of supplies and wastes into and out of the facility, respectively. Doors to animal rooms open inward and are self-closing."
-- Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories, 4th ed.

I would guess that the outdoor cages were for the (much larger) population of healthy animals. At least we assume they're healthy. CDC again: "Nearly 100% of captive macaques >= 2.5 years of age were seropositive for [herpes B] virus, whereas ~20% of animals < 2.5 years of age were seropositive. On a given day, 2% of one group of seropositive rhesus monkeys shed B virus."

#6 ::: Laurie Mann ::: (view all by) ::: September 09, 2005, 04:57 PM:

This is one bad thing with being an SF fan - everything looks...dangerous.

I believed the story of catastrophe from hurricane and flooding in New Orleans years before it finally happened. I remember watching the NOAA site two weeks ago as Katrina exploded in size and strength over the Gulf of Mexico and thinking the Gulf Coast and probably New Orleans are likely toast. Yeah, I was one of the "gee, New Orleans kind of dodged a bullet" people late Monday and early Tuesday until it was clear that the levee had breached. And than it was "Uh-un...screwed!"

I'm not an expert on infectious diseases, but I hung out with a lot of biologists when I was at Pitt. I read a huge number of papers about handling infectious agents. While it's certainly possible that one or more of these lab-bound pathogens could be released into the water or the atmosphere, I suspect not a lot will come of it. The water is already so befouled that it would probably kill anything in the lab. The fact that refrigeration units was likely off for days means that an awful lot of the frozen/refrigerated viruses/bacteria died.

A bigger danger may be if some scientifically trained terrorist with adequate refrigeration broke into a now under-protected lab that hadn't lost its power AND the viruses/bacteria had been properly destroyed and stole some of them.

Anthrax, despite the scare four years ago, really isn't overly communicable. But it can survive for a long time under unfavorable conditions, kill a few people and terrorize many more.

Plague is possible in a messy, tropical area anyway, though I don't remember hearing that is resurged around the Indian Ocean after the tsunami. So that's slightly possible even without a biohazard lab in the area.

Cholera, malaria, West Nile and persistant dysentary are all much more likely for people working in the Gulf Coast (and especially in New Orleans) than anything from a biohazard lab escaping into the general public.

#7 ::: ElizabethVomMarlowe ::: (view all by) ::: September 09, 2005, 05:13 PM:

Okay. I was reading that thread about the "detainment camp" in Oklahoma. Teresa, the orignal poster updated and said that "FEMA has stated until they get these people "in the system", which means on welfare/medicaid, unemployment, etc. and until they have worked through the health issues (the preacher was told there are three outbreaks of dysentary in the group of people coming to this camp) no one will be able to come in the camp and no one will be able to leave. Our preacher had had an offer from one man to come in and wire our cabin with satellite so that it could have TV reception. FEMA told him he could not come in due to health concerns."

She updated and said the three people have dysentery is according to rumor. (This is the one that Mary Kay looked at and affirmed the photos looked right, as far as it went.)

Please somebody remove my tinfoil hat--it's wedged on my head!

The children will NOT be allowed to go to school in the local district, etc.

Link

Looking at what they posted, it sure looks like a very natural disease containment facility to me. I hope someone can disabuse me of this notion but quick.

#8 ::: tamnonlinear ::: (view all by) ::: September 09, 2005, 05:17 PM:

Regarding plague (if we mean Yersina pestis in particular, and not just plague as a generic term for nasti nasti diseases): NO does have a resident population of black rats (Rattus rattus) which can carry plague-bearing fleas, unlike the more common brown rats (R. norvegicus). Black rats, also called tree rats and roof rats, like being up high. With all the flood waters, the people have also been up high as possible, often sheltering in the same places as the rats.

I'm not saying it's a likely problem, as I don't think plague is all that common in the US southeast (the SW, yes, it's pretty well settled in CA through western TX) but if it is there, this was a perfect set up for exposing humans to plague bearing rodents.

I don't think it incubates very long though, so if it was coming, we would have seen cases by now, wouldn't we?

#9 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 09, 2005, 05:19 PM:

My understanding is that dysentery is not contagious in the way that measles or chickenpox are; rather that it's passed by unsanitary practices. To me it sounds like "not letting people in" is over-reacting mightily, especially if it's someone who is going to install satellite dishes rather than, say, plumbing.
The pictures were not that disturbing in their content; they were however somewhat dark.

#10 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: September 09, 2005, 05:30 PM:

Isolation Hospitals were once commonplace in England, a few buildings somewhere in the middle of nowhere.

There's been one or two disease/terrorism thrillers based on the bad guys somehow finding live nastystuff at these sites.

I don't know what special public health risks New Orleans had before all this happened, or what advice prospective tourists were given. But this is one of those cases when it can be a choice between DDT and disease epidemics.

I hope there's something which doesn't linger like DDT does, but I wouldn't go into an eco-frenzy if it was used.

#11 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: September 09, 2005, 05:38 PM:

From today's news about Brownie being kicked upstairs:

"Chertoff said Brown would return to Washington
to oversee the government's response to other potential disasters."

Eeek.

#12 ::: Laurie Mann ::: (view all by) ::: September 09, 2005, 05:55 PM:

Yikes, I apologize for my many grammatical lapses in my last posting. Let me try that again:


This is one bad thing with being an SF fan - everything looks dangerous.

I believed the potential catastrophe from hurricane and flooding in New Orleans years before it finally happened. I remember watching the NOAA site two weeks ago as Katrina exploded in size and strength over the Gulf of Mexico and thinking the Gulf Coast and probably New Orleans were likely toast. Yeah, I was one of the "Gee, New Orleans kind of dodged a bullet" people late Monday and early Tuesday until it was clear that the levee had been breached. And than it was "Uh-oh...screwed!"

I'm not an expert on infectious diseases, but I hung out with biologists when I was at Pitt. I read a number of papers about handling infectious agents. While it's certainly possible that one or more of those lab-bound pathogens could be released into the water or the atmosphere, I suspect not a lot will come of it. The water is already so befouled that it would probably kill anything in the lab. The fact that refrigeration units were likely off for days meant that an awful lot of the frozen/refrigerated viruses/bacteria died.

A bigger danger would be if some scientifically-trained terrorist broke into a now under-protected lab that hadn't lost its power. And say the terrorist had a cooler and some dry ice and took some assorted viruses out of the lab. Now, that could be ugly.

Anthrax, despite the scare four years ago, really isn't overly communicable. It can survive for a long time under unfavorable conditions, kill a few people and terrorize many more.

Plague is possible in a messy, tropical area anyway, though I don't remember hearing that it resurged around the Indian Ocean after the tsunami. So that's slightly possible even without a biohazard lab in the area.

Cholera, malaria, West Nile and persistant dysentary are all much more likely for people working in the Gulf Coast (and especially in New Orleans) than anything from a biohazard lab escaping into the community.

#13 ::: Alex Merz ::: (view all by) ::: September 09, 2005, 06:53 PM:

Folks, there are many many things to be horrified about in the wake of Katrina. Fear for the welfare of these primates should be a concern. Fear of infection due to vermin (rats, etc.) should be. Fear of mosquito-borne disease should be. Fear of waterborne disease should be. Fear of pathogen escape from the primate center should NOT be.

Please do not let your imagination run wild. This situation, like a Michael Chrichton story, is awful. Unlike a Chrichton story, it is reality-based.

We are not dealing with fairy dust here but with pathogens that have KNOWN routes of transmission. None of what's printed above gives me *any* reason for concern on this count. The only concern is that a bite from an escaped monkey could infect a person with monkey herpes B virus, which in humans is poorly transmissible but without treatment invariably fatal. This is an unlikely event that even were it to occur would not cause large-scale disease.

FWIW, I do have a relatively recently-obtained doctorate in mechanisms of bacterial infection.

#14 ::: Cathy Krusberg ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2005, 09:19 AM:

While we're discussing the animals of New Orleans:

I haven't been able to find Web confirmation of this, but I understand that CNN did a story about the 82nd Airborne evacuating a woman and her 21 dogs; the woman had said she would evacuate only if the dogs could come too (see thread 4479.2. "I just saw it on CNN"). In contrast, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution ran this story: a family lost two of their three dogs because St. Bernard Parish sheriff's deputies deemed the animals too big to rescue and shot them on the spot.

Best Friends Animal Society has a number of threads about New Orleans residents forced to abandon their pets, sometimes by local authorities, sometimes because of FEMA regulations - even though animal abandonment is illegal under Louisiana law (one post cited Chapter 14, Section 102.1(A)(1)(d) of Louisiana's Revised Statutes). There is evidence that human lives have been lost because people refused to be evacuated without their dogs - back when they had the choice.

The Humane Society of Louisiana is struggling to rescue pets, but they have limited manpower. (I understand they accept volunteer help. Don't call; just show up at the Gonzales shelter, per a Sept. 9 post by petlover7777 at Best Friends.) Of course, the Humane Society is receiving the occasional bit of "assistance" from individuals like Sgt. Mike Minton of St. Bernard Parish, who shot and killed a friendly dog when it approached him because "it's more humane and that they might start eating us." (N.B.: Link is to a video clip that I have not attempted to view because I'm on a slow connection.)

I have yet to see this tied to the quote attributed to Gandhi: "One can measure the greatness of a nation and its moral progress by the way it treats its animals." But then, failure to measure up seems widespread, of late, at least among U.S. officialdom.

#15 ::: BadTux ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2005, 04:30 PM:

According to a doctor working on the ground, all aid workers and first responders are being vaccinated for Hepatitus A and B due to the unsanitary conditions. This doctor calls New Orleans "a bowl of disease-filled sewage" and says merely touching the water could cause disease if you have even the tiniest scratch. He is even recommending gamma gobulin (some evil sh*t) for the first responders who waded through the disease-filled waters searching for survivors.

No monkeys required. Alas.

#16 ::: herpes virus ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2005, 03:18 PM:

BadTux, vaccination is quite reasonable in such cases, isn't it? We should care about those who help people im such disasters. When we face someting like Katrina, all the healthcare specialists as well as scientists should do their best to prevent futher damage to the population.

#17 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2005, 04:41 PM:

herpes virus, whatever gave you the idea BadTux was implying the vaccinations were a bad idea?

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