- NEW YORK (Reuters)
- The CIA is investigating whether a recent outbreak of West Nile-like
fever in New York might have been an attempt at bio-terrorism, The New
Yorker magazine reported Sunday.
- The virus, which killed five people and made at least
27 others ill, is believed to have been passed to people via mosquitoes
that bit infected birds.
- Without quoting anyone directly at the Central Intelligence
Agency, the magazine describes analysts there as having a ''whiff of concern''
that it might have been sent deliberately to the United States.
- Many experts have been warning for years that the United
States is vulnerable to a bio-terrorism attack. But none has ever named
West Nile as one of the potential weapons -- anthrax, botulin toxin and
even bubonic plague are considered to be the potential weapons of choice.
- West Nile virus is not particularly deadly and causes
only mild flu-like symptoms in most people. The very young, very old or
ill can develop encephalitis -- a swelling of the brain -- and die.
- Last week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
(CDC) said 50 potential or definite cases of West Nile-like fever had been
identified in New York and said the outbreak was definitely on the wane.
No new cases have been reported since Sept. 17.
- But the report in The New Yorker said the CDC had been
asked to check on whether the virus could have been deliberately spread.
- ``We're taking it seriously. We'll see where the data
take us,'' the magazine quoted ``a person at the CDC'' as saying.
- Navy Secretary Richard Danzig told the magazine he was
not alarmed. ``Even if you suspect biological terrorism, it's hard to prove,''
- The magazine cites a book written by a man using the
name Mikhael Ramadan, who claimed to be an Iraqi defector and said Iraqi
leader Saddam Hussein was planning to make a weapon out of a strain of
West Nile virus.
- He described it as being ``capable of destroying 97 percent
of all life in an urban environment.''
- The CDC has said it is concerned about the New York outbreak
because West Nile fever has never been seen in the Americas before. It
is common in Africa and Asia.
- Last year, U.S. and Romanian experts reported in The
Lancet medical journal that a 1996 outbreak in Romania had been identified
as West Nile fever, with a mortality rate of between 4 and 8 percent. They
said Europe was vulnerable to more such outbreaks.
- Last week, Thomas Briese and colleagues at the University
of California at Irvine said they had identified the New York virus as
a Kunjin/West Nile-like flavivirus.