Physician Group Warns of “New Nerve Gas Attacks”

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Recent nerve-gas attacks on civilians suggest the need for better preparedness, writes Steven Hatfill. M.D., in the spring issue of in the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons.

In 2017, Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of the North Korean president Kim Jong-un, was assassinated at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia, with a form of the V-series of nerve agents developed by the British in the late 1950s. In 2018, there were several poisonings in England, apparently involving Russian Novichok (“Newcomer”) agents. These were thought to be related to the attempted assassination of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal.

Russia is believed to have made significant advances in chemical warfare agents during the Cold War, despite the Chemical Weapons Convention. The highly classified Novichok agents may be 10 times as potent as VX and designed to circumvent NATO countermeasures and detection equipment.

Civilian physicians need to be aware of the symptoms and signs of chemical weapons exposure, as antidotes must be administered quickly, effective protective gear must be used by responders, and proper decontamination and waste management must be employed.

Dr. Hatfill summarizes clinical findings and principles of management to aid civilian authorities in recognizing that an attack has occurred and in formulating a stopgap response until expert resources can arrive.

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