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The Demon in the Freezer by Richard Preston

- Abstract

Take to you handfuls of soot of the furnace, and let Moses throw it heavenward in the sight of Pha- raoh; and it shall become fine dust over all the land of Egypt, and shall be a boil breaking forth with blains upon man and upon beast, throughout the land of Egypt. [Exodus 9:8-9] WHATEVER ONE’S views on the historicity of the biblical plagues, it is remarkable how closely this passage resembles a description of modern biological warfare. A handful of smallpox virions, each about the size of a particle of soot, contains enough pestilent material to infect millions of people. Released at a high enough altitude, a cloud of such viral dust might spread invisibly for 50 miles or more. Anyone who breathes in as few as a half-dozen grains could become symptomatic in a fortnight, breaking out with blisters and sores or with bleeding skin.

About the Author

Kevin Shapiro is a research fellow in neuroscience and a student at Harvard Medical School.