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Every year millions of Americans get sick with the flu. But could it be much worse, if the flu was used as a weapon.
The National Institutes of Health wants to know what would happen if the flu was used as an agent of bioterrorism.
Since 9-11 Americans have heard a lot about bioterrorism. Anthrax kept some from opening their mail. Concern over smallpox led to vaccinations of first responders.
Other potential agents include plague, tularemia, and botulinum toxin.
Well now researchers at Stanford have been awarded a $15-million grant from the NIH to study another possible weapon-- influenza, the flu virus.
Specifically they'll be looking at how our immune system reponds to the virus. What they learn could help develop better vaccines to protect against the virus if it were ever released in a modified, highly infectious form, with the sole purpose of causing widespread illness and death.
Most people don't realize the flu already has a lot going for it.
It's easy to spread from person to person. It can be aerosolized and spread through the air to expose an even larger number of people, and it can cause serious, even life-threatening illness for people of all ages.
What's more, it mutates easily, so it can re-infect people and cause severe illness year after year.
The flu is not to be taken lightly. The Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 killed millions worldwide. It seems the virus had changed ever so slightly, so no one was immune.
The Spanish flu devastated entire countries, killing 20- to 50- million world wide.
This was a virus that attacked mostly young, healthy adults. 700-thousand died in the US alone.
That virus occurred naturally. It's hard to imagine the impact of the flu virus if it was used as a weapon.