Saturday, November 25, 2006

Modeling terror: botulism in milk

Gnome writes "What if the milk from a single processing plant were poisoned with botulism? Poisoning cold drinks with botulinum toxin is one of the 3 “greatest threats to humans” (along with smallpox and airborne anthrax attacks) according to some experts. Authors Wein and Liu analyzed this question mathematically using the supply-chain values of the California dairy industry (which produces >20% of the milk in the US). With “enough” toxin and without “timely” diagnosis, they predict a catastrophe. For example, <1 g of toxin could cause 100,000 poisonings. Ten grams could kill over a half million people. Particularly chilling is that “due to children's higher consumption rate and greater toxin sensitivity”, they estimate 61% of the dead would be children (1 g). They recommend testing and perhaps altered heat pasteurization to inactivate the toxin at a total cost of less than 1 cent per gallon. The publication of this paper was controversial. Ironically, the full editorial on the balance between openness and secrecy, which discusses the decision to publish this paper, is not freely available.
FullandFree Wein and Liu PNAS July 12, 2005 vol. 102:9984 Analyzing a bioterror attack on the food supply: The case of botulinum toxin in milk"


Anonymous said...

Agriculture - plants and livestock

Diseases that could devistate agriculture are not receiving adequate attention. The US Department of Agriculture's site [] on foot-and-mouth disease is moribund. Foot-and-mouth disease is extremely communicable (it's a top reason why travelers from abroad are asked whether they were recently on a farm). With the enormous area that must be protected, total prevention might be impractical. However, as discussed in this article, timely detection can make the difference between a problem and a catastrophe.

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