Robert Uhlig writes in the (U.K.) Telegraph that flights from Europe to the U.S. are being cancelled lately due to fears that a "suicide bomber" who intentionally contracted a deadly, contagious disease, such as smallpox, is planning to board one of the planes and infect everyone on it, due to the recirculated air in the cabin. Uhlig writes, "A single sneeze would be enough to put hundreds of thousands of saliva droplets carrying the [smallpox] virus into circulation, which would be fatal to three out of 10 people not vaccinated against the disease."
Uhlig says, "Older aircraft such as Concorde and the Boeing 737 relied solely on air ducted from the jet engines for their ventilation. It meant the on-board atmosphere was extremely dry but at least the cabin air was replaced completely every three minutes. Modern airliners use a 50-50 blend of fresh and old air simply because it is cheaper. Air conditioning units siphon power from the jet engines; less ventilation means lower fuel consumption. With the increased carbon dioxide levels comes a greater circulation of particles, organisms and disease." Besides smallpox, anthrax, botulism or plague could be used.
Dr. Lev Sandakhchiyev, of Russia's Vektor Institute, says, "Smallpox is a very dangerous weapon in the hands of terrorists and you don't need some clever way of delivering it. All you need is a sick fanatic to get to a populated place The world health system is completely unprepared for this."
Dr. Tara O'Toole researched the consequences of an infected on a plane and discovered that if a smallpox-infected terrorist boarded a plane on April 1st, by mid-June, there would be 15,000 cases and 2,000 deaths in the U.S., and the disease would have spread to at least four other countries. Another study predicts three million cases and one million deaths within a few months of the first infected patient.
UPDATE: While the the possibility of this type of attack is real, Western airports have become so secure that al-Qaeda may be having to settle for scare tactics instead. U.S. intelligence officials now say that recent warnings about airplane terrorism were disinformation being spread by al-Qaeda. Flights were cancelled because of information that terrorists were planning to set off chemical, biological or radiological weapons during the flights. However, they now think this was disinformation intentionally placed by al-Qaeda agents on an Islamic website it knows is being monitored by U.S. and allied intelligence, and that no such attacks were actually planned.
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