AiS Challenge Team Interim Report

Team Number: 88

School Name: Silver High School

Area of Science: Microbiology

Project Title: The Plausible Harmful Widespread Effects of the Smallpox Virus as Related to Biological Warfare



Title: The Plausible Harmful Widespread Effects of the Smallpox Virus as Related to Biological Warfare

Area of Science: Microbiology

Definition of Problem: Throughout history, smallpox has been an international plague. At one point in time, the smallpox vaccine was administered regularly in this country. However, due to the eradication of the smallpox disease in the 1970's, smallpox vaccinations ceased in the United States in 1972. Although it is not known exactly how much vaccine is in existence today, all vaccine production facilities were dismantled after 1980. With recent events and the fact that stores of the virus still exist in the United States and Russia, the public has become very aware of the possibility of biological warfare. It has come to our attention that smallpox, specifically the virus Variola major, if used as a biological weapon, may have devastating effects. Furthermore, there are several factors that fuel the concern. Smallpox is historically known as one of the most serious of all pestilential diseases, it is corporally disfiguring, the virus spreads directly from person to person, there is no known treatment for the virus after infection, and it bears a 30 percent fatality rate. To top it off, no one in the United States has been vaccinated during the past 25 years and it is probable that any vaccination immunity previously acquired through these routine vaccinations has indubitably waned. This is a grave problem that affects us all.

These questions remain: If smallpox were used as a biological weapon, just how devastating would these effects be? If, perhaps, a biological attack did take place on home soil, would our country be ready to combat the outbreak? We have set out to create a program to answer these questions. The purpose of our project is to determine just how many people would be affected if such an outbreak did occur. We will mimic a somewhat subtle introduction of the virus into our country beginning with human-to-human contact. Next, we will calculate how many people could become infected in a worst-case scenario over a fixed amount of time. We will then have an idea of how devastating an outbreak could be. These numbers may then be used to aid in the preparation of our country as far as vaccination and general awareness are concerned.

Our Plan for Solving the Problem Computationally: Our first consideration is the amount of people in areas where the virus is first introduced. It will be introduced into an airport. Based on statistics, averages, and inferences, we will determine how many people logically may be in the area and may be susceptible to exposure. Then, using the equations and indications of exponential growth again and again, and also using very logical numbers for those susceptible to infection, we will demonstrate how widespread this disease may be. We will take into consideration several variables including incubation period of the virus, etc. Our program will then be run on a supercomputer using our specified equations, and it will develop a result, which will be the number of people that may be infected.

Description of Progress to Date: To date, we have done a great amount of research, which our project requires. We have consulted a medical professional to get additional information and insight on the smallpox virus. We have also been working with our mathematics mentor to develop the specific equations intrinsic to our project. Using various sources, we have extensively researched the smallpox virus, including its history, effects, incubation period and stages of infection, as well as visual symptoms and vaccines. To keep ourselves organized and on track, we have outlined our program and its components.

Expected Results: Based on the principles of exponential growth (the idea of a great increase over a short period of time), we believe that our program will show that several thousands of people, if not more, will be affected by the spread of the smallpox disease. With this knowledge, we will then have an educated idea of much vaccine may be needed in the case of an attack, based on the amount needed per person. This program will give insight into just how destructive this disease may be, if introduced with the intent of doing harm. It will then be known just how prepared our country must be for a biological attack.
Hewitt, Paul G. Conceptual Physics: The High School Physics Program, Second Edition. Addison-Wesley Publishing Company: Menlo Park, California. 1992.
Braunwald, Eugene M.D. et al. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine: Volume 2. McGraw Hill Professional Publishing: Boston, MA. 1998.
Dr. Bill Neely, M.D.
Peggy Larisch, teacher
Joy Garcia, teacher

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