Call to stockpile vaccines against rise of bioterrorism

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The Independent Online
A SENIOR scientist has warned that the consequences of bioterrorism are so dire that governments must build up stockpiles of antibiotics, vaccines and antiviral drugs to combat the threat.

Frank Young, a former commissioner with the American Food and Drug Administration and an expert on biological weapons, said that the public discussions of bioterrorism is likely to generate hysteria but this is no excuse to do nothing.

"Any discussion of biological warfare and bio-terrorism is likely to evoke great fears on one hand and disbelief on the other," he said. "I would emphasise that the possibility of bioterrorism is a low probability event ... But the consequences are so grave it would be unthinkable not to be prepared."

One of the main areas of concern is being able to distinguish quickly between a natural outbreak of a contagious disease and an epidemic generated by a biological weapon, Dr Young said.

He cited the recent outbreak in the US of Hanta virus - potentially lethal in humans. It took experts nearly a week to ascertain that it was a natural emergence of the disease.

Dr Young said there are three areas that governments must address to lessen the threat of bioterrorism; further development of new antibiotics and vaccines, enhanced civil defence and initiatives to negotiate a meaningful international treaty.

Craig Venter, a leading American geneticist, said unravelling the genetic blueprints of dangerous organisms will help to deter attempts to engineer microbes for use as biological weapons. "There is no way we can easily distinguish between a bioterrorism event and an emerging pathogen [disease- causing microbe]. Virtually every human pathogen is something that can be used as a bioterrorism tool. We need better diagnostic tools to distinguish between them," he said.