Biological warfare
The big bug the Iraqis have probably grown is anthrax, a cattle disease which British germ warfare experts used to lay waste a Scottish island in the Second World War. To start with, you just have a low grade fever and a hacking cough for a few days. Then you stop breathing, go into shock and die. There is no cure.

I checked it out with a British military doctor after I applied for an Iraqi visa. "The one thing you could protect against is anthrax," he said. "It's a horrible death and entirely preventable." He said all I needed was a shot of combined anthrax and whooping cough vaccine, price 20. He did add that the vaccine was suspected of causing Gulf War syndrome, a mixture of nervous symptoms affecting hundreds of people who served in the coalition army that drove Iraq out of Kuwait in 1991. "But there's absolutely no scientific evidence," he said.

Yeah, well. The London Hospital for Tropical Diseases didn't agree. "We don't have any vaccine, and we wouldn't normally give it because of the nature of the vaccine. It's been implicated in Gulf War syndrome and we don't know whether it works. There are a lot of questions over its safety."

Thanks a lot. I called around some more and found the British Airways Travel Clinic, which didn't have any either -- and it wasn't one shot, it was three over several weeks. But they did tell me that the one place I could get the vaccine was the Public Health Laboratory at the Ministry of Health.

The Lab was very frank and helpful. "There isn't any vaccine at the moment. There isn't any in Britain. We have a new batch being made but it won't be ready until the end of the month."

So that was that. Panic buying, obviously. Anyway, I found out afterwards that the vaccine takes 32 weeks to work. Even when it's speeded up by being combined with whooping cough vaccine (at the risk of a lifetime's side effects), it still takes 8 weeks.

Moral: if you're not in the army, forget it. And if you are, the vaccine might be nearly as bad as the disease.


Next... Chemical warfare


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