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Sunday, January 23, 2005

We Had to Infect the Village in Order to Protect It 

With the government handing out billions in biodefense grants, enthusiasm for germ-warfare research is downright contagious:
Last year, while working on a vaccine to protect against bioterrorist attacks, three laboratory workers at Boston University were exposed to the bacteria that cause a rare disease called tularemia, or rabbit fever.

The workers recovered, though two of them had to be hospitalized. But the prognosis is less certain for the university's ambitious plan to build a high-security biodefense laboratory, part of a national boom in germ defense research touched off by the Sept. 11 attacks and the anthrax letters of 2001 . . . .

The Boston case follows other mishaps in germ research, including the accidental shipment of virulent live anthrax from Maryland to California last March, and an investigation that revealed multiple spills of anthrax bacteria in the Army's biodefense laboratory. Such incidents have led some scientists to ask whether the growing number of germ laboratories - financed from the $14.5 billion in federal money spent on civilian biodefense since 2001 - may pose a menace to public health comparable to the still uncertain threat from bioterrorism.

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