Wednesday, October 17, 2001 Volume 67, Issue 40



War makes strange things happen

Kristin Buchanan

Ever get the feeling you're stuck in some science fiction novel? America is waxing surrealistic with its current state of biochemical warfare.

The North American market on gas masks and survival kits seems to be getting increasingly lucrative. The threat of anthrax has many up in arms, and for good reason.

If released upwind, anthrax could kill millions of people, but the recent attacks have pinpointed specific people through contaminated envelopes containing a powder substance.

I'm not sure what's scarier -- the threat of bioterrorism itself, or the stupidity of the pranksters behind anthrax hoaxes. A recent scare had people quarantined for five hours at Memorial Hospital, only to learn it was talcum powder that kept them imprisoned.

The Houston Chronicle reported on Monday that workers at 110 abortion clinics and Planned Parenthood facilities received envelopes containing non-lethal powder. Hazardous material teams are working overtime, investigating suspicious substances in buildings nationwide.

Somehow, I just don't see how anyone can find humor in even suggesting the threat of biochemicals. I'm sure even those who have survived anthrax infections don't find these jokes funny.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the most common form of anthrax infection, known as cutaneous, can be received through a cut in the skin. This is the least dangerous, though, and only about 20 percent of cutaneous infections end in death.

Intestinal infection can happen by eating meat from animals infected by anthrax, and the CDC estimates anywhere from 25 percent to 60 percent of intestinal infections result in death. Suddenly, a vegetarian diet doesn't sound so unappealing after all.

What's really scary is that anthrax inhalation is "usually fatal," the CDC reports have said. Maybe a gas mask isn't such a bad idea after all.

Maybe the fashion industry will find a way to adapt to the new trend in apocalyptic warfare gear.

Instead of the traditional black bulky gas masks, we'll be seeing a more compact version. For the sports fan, gas masks will be designed to look like baseballs and basketballs. Trendy teenage girls can be seen in pink gas masks, complete with sparkling rhinestones and the word "Princess" written in silver glitter. Birkenstock-wearing tree-huggers can protect their faces with a green gas mask featuring the words "Food Not Bombs."

After all, just because your face is covered doesn't mean you can't make a statement. If we're all going to invest in gas masks, we should at least get to have an individual touch.

Who knows? The best method of prevention against biochemical warfare is education. Know the symptoms, and go to the doctor if anything unusual happens.

We all have to watch our backs and hope we don't get caught in the battlefield of chemical warfare.

Buchanan, a senior communication major, 
can be reached at

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