Newspaper article International New York Times

Concerns Raised over Ebola as a Weapon ; Questions about Whether Virus Could Be Harvested Follow Stabbing in Nigeria

Newspaper article International New York Times

Concerns Raised over Ebola as a Weapon ; Questions about Whether Virus Could Be Harvested Follow Stabbing in Nigeria

Article excerpt

The stabbing involved a United States air marshal at the airport in Lagos. Initial tests on the substance in the syringe did not detect Ebola.

A United States air marshal was stabbed with a syringe at the airport in Lagos, Nigeria, on Sunday, an incident that is raising concerns about whether the deadly Ebola virus could be harvested from the widespread outbreak in West Africa and used as a bioweapon.

Initial tests on the substance in the syringe, conducted at a special biodefense forensics laboratory at Fort Detrick, Md., did not detect the virus or any other threatening agent, a spokesman for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Christos Sinos, said on Wednesday. The marshal, who arrived in Houston on Monday, was examined there and has been released from the hospital with no sign of illness, according to a spokesman for the Transportation Security Administration.

Experts say it would be extremely hard for a group to grow large amounts of the virus and turn it into a weapon that could be dispersed over a wide area, infecting and killing many people.

"The bad guys are more likely to kill themselves trying to develop it," said Dr. Philip K. Russell, a retired major general who was the commander of the Army Medical Research and Development Command.

But it is harder to totally discount the possibility of a smaller attack, perhaps like the one at the airport in Lagos. Another possibility would be suicide infectors, people who deliberately infected themselves and carried the virus out of the epidemic zone to sicken others.

"To truly isolate the virus takes a lot of resources," said Dr. Ryan C.W. Hall, a Florida psychiatrist who has written about the psychiatric impacts of bioterrorism attacks. "But if you have people who are willing to die and willing to inject themselves with the blood of someone who has been infected, you don't need a Biosafety Level 4 lab," he said, referring to the special containment facilities used to work with the most deadly pathogens.

Such an attack would not kill many, or even any, people in an advanced country like the United States. But it could strike terror and cause economic disruption. …

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