The horrible menace of Anthrax Island

Anthrax survived for decades in the marshy soil, no matter what the other weather conditions might be.

Anthrax has been around a long, long time, but we are still horrified by the possibility that it will get loose somewhere and go on a rampage.  The very name, anthrax, has the ability to horrify.  Couple that with the possibility that it could be used as a weapon and it has the ability to horrify doubly. 

Did you know that there is an island that was totally infected with anthrax?  Signs were put up on all its shores forbidding landing of any craft for years.  Gruinard Island is its other name and it is barely three miles off the Scottish coast.

The unoccupied island was used as a testing spot for anthrax spores during WWII.  Not only were tests being done to see if anthrax would be viable as a weapon, it was also being examined to see how to neutralize it, should it be used by an enemy alliance.

The bacterium released by the spores, Bacillus anthracis causes the deadly blood infection that kills without mercy.  Sheep and cattle are vulnerable because they feed on contaminated grass, unaware.  Once animals are infected, the bacterium can spread to humans with ease, a secondary method of infection.

Anthrax is very resilient.  It also survives for decades in the marshy soil, no matter what the other weather conditions are—practically indestructible.  After the release of anthrax on the island, the researchers went in, completed their documentation, then they burned off everything on the island. 

This was not good enough.  Some spores had possibly escaped the island prior to the burning and traveled through the air or on the sea to the Scottish coast.   In 1943 there was a resulting outbreak on the Scottish mainland.  Security specialists tried to suppress the news.  In a clandestine operation, they returned to the island and re-burned, thinking heather was the main offender.  They returned to test and retest.

Anthrax was winning on Gruinard Island—conditions were perfect.  It had seeped down into the soil and kept resurfacing on a whim.  It continued to prevail on three acres of the island clear into the 1970s.  The scientists kept posting their signs to warn no one to go ashore.  They continued to burn and burn at intervals.

Anthrax Island was declared free of anthrax in 1987.  Some grazing animals were placed back on the island and they remained healthy.  The next year, it was approved for human habitation—it had been 45 years since the experiment.

It is a good bet that not many humans were in a hurry to move back in.

Sara Marie Hogg is the author of It Rises From the Pee Dee. Please click HERE to find the book on Amazon.

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