Output of vaccines for biological warfare stepped up

January 28, 1991|By Mary Knudson

The Defense Department has accelerated production of vaccines against such virulent diseases as anthrax, cholera and typhoid in response to the possibility of biological warfare by Iraq.

The intent is to rapidly make enough vaccine to inoculate all U.S. and allied troops in the Persian Gulf, an Army spokesman said yesterday. Inoculations began earlier this month, but the Army found a severe shortage of the vaccines.

The military's anthrax vaccine is being produced by the Michigan Department of Public Health, which has been making anthrax vaccine for 25 years for use by workers who process animal hides and face the risk of contracting the disease from contaminated hides.

In addition to vaccines against biological attack, the Army -- the Defense Department's official agent for protecting the military from biological and chemical warfare -- also has prepared troops for defense against chemical weapons.

All troops have been trained in how to quickly don protective two-piece suits, masks, hoods and boot covers, said Chuck Dasey, public affairs officer for the Army Medical Research and Development Command at Fort Detrick in Frederick. The command is responsible for overseeing the troops' medical preparedness against biological and chemical warfare.

Additionally, the soldiers carry with them several drugs to use in case of chemical warfare.

One kit contains an antidote to nerve gas. If, in spite of the protective mask and garments, a soldier feels symptoms of nerve gas poisoning or sees a fellow soldier with symptoms, he is trained to administer two injections into the thigh muscle to counteract the effects, Mr. Dasey said.

Nerve gas affects the muscles and central nervous system, first causing excessive sweating and drooling, then vomiting, diarrhea and muscle twitching. Convulsions, coma and death can follow.

Each soldier also carries Valium, an anti-convulsive drug, to be used in cases of serious exposure. If severe symptoms continue, up to three Valium injections are to be given to prevent convulsions, which often are followed by coma and death.

In addition, medics have been trained in treating chemical injury and decontaminating patients.

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