May 16, 2005

Nebraska's tularemia troubles: Killer Rabbit Fever

Tularemia Ulcer
sticks out like sore thumb

You don't want to catch 'the tularemia', so you are careful when you skin rabbits, no? Most Nebraskans that hunt know this, but I wasn't aware that there was, or had been developed, types of tularemia that would be of interest to terrorists. But it is true according to the CDC, who classifies it among, "the Category A diseases: smallpox, anthrax, botulism, plague, tularemia, and viral hemorrhagic fevers. If these germs were used to intentionally infect people, they would cause the most illness and death."

Maybe because Nebraska has so many of these long-eared rats, maybe because our state successfully sought grant money for homeland defense biowarfare work, but it appears that such germs are kept at our state universities. Watched over and kept secure by well-paid, trustworthy state employees. Well now I see this in the Boston Globe's

"The University of Nebraska became a focus of the investigation because researchers from the school's Lincoln campus provided BU scientists with a sample of tularemia so they could begin their work last year on a vaccine against the bacterial illness, commonly known as rabbit fever.

The BU scientists believed they were working with a form of the bacteria genetically engineered to be safe for vaccine studies, and, in fact, scientists on Nebraska's Lincoln campus are permitted to study only that strain. But Hinrichs's lab in Omaha at University of Nebraska Medical Center is permitted to work with the dangerous variety of tularemia, which is covered by strict federal regulations because it is regarded as a potential agent of bioterrorism.

The CDC has declined to provide details of its investigation or to explain why it wants to examine the tularemia from Hinrichs's lab, but Hinrichs said CDC representatives told him ''that there was a link between Lincoln and UNMC.'"
This goes into the "There has to be more to this than meets the eye" file. I hope it isn't a case of incompetence. These are real WMDs. Mistakes could have consequences far worse than bureacratic embarrassment.

Update: Lincoln Journal Star story. I wish I knew how to blog.

What other good stuff is quietly kept here in Nebraska? I recall when some folks used to sweat and fret about H-bombs being kept at Offutt. None of them went off by accident, or we would have noticed.

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