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Last Updated

08 Mar 2003

Source: Newsday, March 8, 2003

Bioterror Expert Factors in War

By Margaret Ramirez, STAFF WRITER

Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the nation's most prominent health officials and a bioterror adviser to the president, said Friday the likelihood of a bioterrorist attack could increase if the United States attacks Iraq.

The comments came after a lecture to medical staff at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in Manhattan. Fauci, who is director of the National Institutes for Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, spoke about the acceleration of biodefense research efforts after the Sept. 11 attacks.

After his lecture, Fauci addressed questions on the voluntary smallpox vaccination program for hospital workers and was asked whether a war would change the current level of threat, possibly requiring the public to be vaccinated.

"I think if we go to war, it's likely that the threat could be changed just on the basis of going to war," he said.

As of Friday, 33 New York City health department employees had been vaccinated, with hundreds more expected in coming weeks. Those staff members will then vaccinate thousands of health care workers.

Fauci said most states need more financial assistance to bolster their biodefense capabilities. He said the federal government designated $1.1 billion to be divided among the 50 states for bioterror preparations.

"That's not enough. We really need more. So, the worst that can come out of this is that we will be rebuilding the public health system," Fauci said.

The difficulty with a bioterror event, Fauci said, is that you have to have some casualties before you even realize that there is an attack.

"The first [anthrax] attack was a very small, confined number of postal workers," Fauci said. "Unfortunate for them, but relatively speaking, it was a small group. If you got several grams, many grams, into the Metro in Washington, D.C., or the subway system here, you'd have a really serious situation."