Recalling that the Soviet Union stockpiled hemorrhagic fevers during the Cold War, a federal health official warned Tuesday the Ebola virus could be similarly wielded as a potential weapon of mass destruction.
"Theoretically, you can manipulate almost any virus to change it in any way you want," National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director, Anthony Fauci, told a Senate hearing, The Hill reports.
"The only trouble is, it wouldn't be easy for somebody to do that in their backyard laboratory. They would probably kill themselves doing it. It would take a state-type [actor]."
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Fauci, whose agency is part of the National Institutes of Health, told lawmakers Ebola will continue to mutate in potentially dangerous ways unless it's contained.
For example, he pointed out, Ebola now is spread through bodily fluids, but there's a possibility — albeit slim — it could become airborne over time.
"It is an unusual situation where a mutation would completely change the way a virus is transmitted," he said, The Hill reported. "It is not impossible but it would be unlikely."
"We never take anything like that lightly. Changing transmissibility … is obviously something that could be a frightening thing."
The comments came during Congress's first hearing on the epidemic ravaging West Africa, just as President Barack Obama
announced new military efforts to stop Ebola in Liberia.
Fauci also revealed the first human trial of an Ebola vaccination has so far produced no adverse effects, The Washington Post reports.
"So far 10 of the 20 volunteers have been vaccinated, and thus far there have been no red flags," Fauci told lawmakers.
The Phase I trial is being conducted at an NIH facility in Bethesda, Md. and is focused on building scientific evidence that the vaccine is safe in humans, The Post notes. It was developed by British drug-maker GlaxoSmithKline in conjunction with the NIH.
"The proof is in the pudding to show scientifically that it works," Fauci said.
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