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.