August 7, 1996

Confronting a Biological Armageddon: Experts Tackle Prospect of Bioterrorism

JAMA. 1996;276(5):349-351. doi:10.1001/jama.1996.03540050009003

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IT SOUNDS LIKE the plot of a Hollywood thriller du jour: Terrorists stealthily plant a cache of deadly anthrax spores in the air vents of the New York Stock Exchange. Hundreds die, plunging the global economy into turmoil.

Or consider another scenario: 2 dozen recently hospitalized people, stricken with what at first appears to be a particularly virulent strain of influenza, develop the alarming symptoms of a deadly hemorrhagic fever. By the time the source of the infection is identified as Ebola virus, introduced into blood products by a disgruntled blood bank supervisor whose spouse works at a government research lab, as many as 58 000 people have been significantly exposed to the infection. Some almost certainly carry the contagion with them as they flee the city in panic.

While screenwriters may well be cranking out a Die Hard on Wall Street, these scenarios were created by people who concern