The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's work to fight plague outbreaks in Uganda could serve to protect the United States from a biological attack involving the bacteria, the Washington Post reported on Tuesday.
There are on average five incidence of plague annually in the United States, while 1,287 apparent infections have been counted in Uganda since 2003.
The U.S. public health agency in recent years has tried out in the African nation a simple tool to test for infection. The small device would function somewhat like a personal pregnancy test; a minute amount of blood or urine could indicate in minutes whether an individual is infected.
Such a quick-acting diagnostic system would be extremely useful in the face of an act of bioterrorism, said CDC scientist Jeff Borchert.
Scientists are also looking for the Food and Drug Administration to authorize use of the antibiotic ciprofloxacin in treating plague infections. The United States already holds the drug in case of anthrax outbreaks.
A number of Ugandan plague patients received a 10-day regimen of the antibiotic during clinical testing, the newspaper reported.
Plague is listed as a Category A biological agent by the Centers for Disease Control. The intentional release of 100 pounds of an airborne version of the bacteria could infect 150,000 citizens in a city of 5 million residents, the World Health Organization has found.
"It's been on national lists as one of the more serious biological agents for a long time," said Tom Ingelsby, head of the Center for Biosecurity at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.