Does North Korea Have Weaponized Anthrax? What You Need to Know

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The mainstream media has been speculating recently whether or not North Korea’s threats to hit the US with an anthrax-tipped missile are empty or not, and it turns out…not.  I contacted Lizzie Bennett, a medical expert from the UK, to tell us what we need to know about anthrax. ~ Daisy

What You Need to Know About Anthrax

by Lizzie Bennett

Sky News is reporting this morning that a North Korean soldier who defected to the South is immune to anthrax.  No big deal right? Well yes, actually it’s a very big deal. It means the guy was either exposed to anthrax or was vaccinated against it.

And that means North Korea has anthrax.

When anthrax occurs naturally, it’s a livestock disease. The treatment of anthrax isn’t medically difficult if the disease is caught early. A course of antibiotics can clear it up, BUT, and it’s a huge but, North Korea is poor, you may not think so with the amount of weaponry it displays and the rotund build of its leader, but in real people terms, it’s poor.

North Koreans, particularly those not in major population centers are malnourished. Medical facilities are sparse and under-equipped. It’s highly unlikely that a lowly grunt in the massive North Korean army contracted the disease on mom and dad’s farm and the military establishment took pity on him and rustled up some highly prized antibiotics to treat him.

Far more likely he was used as part of an experiment into the effects and treatment of anthrax. He is most likely the lucky one who was treated.

Now some will say his defection was planned, that the North knew his immunity would be discovered so they allowed him to escape, propaganda, nothing more and nothing less. The fact is, it doesn’t matter if it was a set-up or not. The fact is, the man is immune to anthrax.

What is anthrax?

Medically, anthrax is a gram-positive rod-shaped bacillus called Bacillus anthraxis (source) that causes a serious, often fatal, disease in humans. In short, it’s a bacteria. It’s commonly found in soil and in livestock and wild animals across the globe. The bacteria is protected by a hard case. It can lie dormant for years and then when conditions are right can re-activate, causing infection in animals and humans. Back in 2016, an anthrax outbreak sickened 72 people after the disease came to the surface as permafrost melted.

People can touch, eat, or breathe in anthrax spores. When this happens, the anthrax spores enter the human body and can turn into active bacteria. This is called exposure to anthrax. Not everybody who is exposed to anthrax will get sick. But many will, and as anthrax bacteria multiply inside the body, they can cause very serious illness.

For example, 1 person in New York in 2006 and 2 people in Connecticut in 2007 were exposed to anthrax while making drums from imported animal skins. The skins contained anthrax spores. These people became extremely sick with anthrax disease. Getting anthrax this way is very unusual. In California, there has been no anthrax disease in humans since 1983, but there are cases of anthrax in farm animals (usually cattle) every few years.

Terrorists could use anthrax to hurt people on purpose by releasing anthrax spores in public places. In 2001, letters containing powdered anthrax spores were sent through the U.S. mail, causing skin and lung anthrax in 22 people. Five people died, all due to lung anthrax. (source)

More worrying still would be a deliberate release of aerosolized anthrax, and it’s such a possibility that keeps many talking heads in the D.O.D awake at night.

Aerosolized simply means turned into a fine mist sometimes containing particles, by the use of a propellant. Think spraying anti-perspirant in the bathroom in a morning, the mist not only carries the particles of deodorant onto your armpits, the force of the propellant scatters it around. That’s exactly what would happen if anthrax was fired into the air with a propellant, a very small amount could go a long way further than the same amount sitting on a surface.

Now imagine aerosolized anthrax was put into the ventilation system of a shopping mall, the propellant turnsit into a fine mist, the ventilation system transports it to the lungs of thousands of people out doing their New Year shopping…not a nice thought is it?

Let’s take that one step further. A missile with an anthrax tip. Japanese newspaper The Asahi Shimbun reports:

North Korea has begun tests to load anthrax onto intercontinental ballistic missiles, according to an intelligence source here.

The United States also has come to the same conclusion. The White House, in its new National Security Strategy issued Dec. 18, stated that North Korea is pursuing “nuclear, chemical and biological weapons that could threaten our homeland.”

The source in South Korea said Pyongyang is conducting heat and pressure resistance tests to see whether anthrax germs can survive at temperatures of 7,000 degrees or higher, the level an ICBM encounters when it re-enters Earth’s atmosphere.

There was an unconfirmed intelligence report that North Korea has already succeeded in such experiments.
Washington had apparently been aware for some time that North Korea is culturing anthrax. Read More…

What types of anthrax are there?

Preparing yourself and your family against an anthrax attack isn’t easy. It’s odorless, tasteless and all but invisible in the air and there are no symptoms at all for up to six days. Once in the system the spores germinate and spread through the body. The first signs of exposure vary depending on how the anthrax was contracted.

Cutaneous Anthrax

If you have a wound, it can become infected. This is called cutaneous anthrax:

Symptoms of cutaneous anthrax start 1 to 7 days after exposure:

  • An itchy sore develops that is similar to an insect bite. This sore may blister and form a black ulcer (sore or eschar).
  • The sore is usually painless, but it is often surrounded by swelling.
  • A scab often forms, and then dries and falls off within 2 weeks. Complete healing can take longer.

Inhalation Anthrax

As with our shopping mall scenario anthrax can be inhaled but it doesn’t have to be aerosolized to be dangerous, inhaling anthrax spores from an animal or a hide or even from soil can still kill.

Symptoms of inhalation anthrax:

  • Begins with fever, malaise, headache, cough, shortness of breath, and chest pain
  • Fever and shock may occur later

Gastrointestinal anthrax

Anthrax can also be ingested, for example from eating tainted meat this is called gastrointestinal anthrax.

Symptoms of gastrointestinal anthrax usually occur within 1 week and may include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Nausea and vomiting (the vomit may contain blood)

How is anthrax treated?

The antibiotics of choice for treating anthrax are penicillin, doxycycline, and ciprofloxacin for inhalational anthrax. These need to be given intravenously for 60 days as not all spores germinate within the body at the same time. The overall outcome for people with second-stage inhalational or gastrointestinal anthrax is grave, even when given antibiotics. Early treatment is imperative.

Unlike smallpox, (something else North Korea has been experimenting with) anthrax is generally not communicable person to person.

Note from Daisy:

Prepping for an anthrax attack is nearly impossible for the average person, since 60 days worth of IV drugs would be required. Your best bet, if possible, is avoidance. If a situation were to occur in which anthrax was detected, going into pandemic lockdown would be the best way to protect your family.

If someone shows signs of anthrax, immediate medical attention is necessary. Please don’t call your local essential oil distributor – you need antibiotics.

Lizzie Bennett

About the Author

Lizzie Bennett

Lizzie Bennett recently retired from her job as a senior operating department practitioner in the UK. Her field was trauma and accident and emergency and she has served on major catastrophe teams around the UK. Lizzie publishes Underground Medic on the topic of preparedness.

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