As of October 2001, the potential for use of infectious agents, such as anthrax, as weapons has been firmly established. It has been suggested that attacks on a nations' agriculture might be a preferred form of terrorism or economic disruption that would not have the attendant stigma of infecting and causing disease in humans. Highly pathogenic avian influenza virus is on every top ten list available for potential agricultural bioweapon agents, generally following foot and mouth disease virus and Newcastle disease virus at or near the top of the list. Rapid detection techniques for bioweapon agents are a critical need for the first-responder community, on a par with vaccine and antiviral development in preventing spread of disease. There are several current approaches for rapid, early responder detection of biological agents including influenza A viruses. There are also several proposed novel approaches in development. The most promising existing approach is real-time fluorescent PCR analysis in a portable format using exquisitely sensitive and specific primers and probes. The potential for reliable and rapid early-responder detection approaches are described, as well as the most promising platforms for using real-time PCR for avian influenza, as well as other potential bioweapon agents.
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