By Elise Viebeck - 09/16/14 05:29 PM EDT
A rogue state could turn Ebola into a weapon of mass destruction, a federal health official acknowledged Tuesday.
Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said it would take a "state-type" actor to successfully weaponize the disease, noting that the Soviet Union stockpiled similar hemorrhagic fevers during the Cold War.
"The only trouble is, it wouldn't be easy for somebody to do that in their backyard laboratory. They would probably kill themselves doing it. It would take a state-type [actor]."
The Senate hearing comes as policymakers consider ways to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, a terrorist army that is gaining ground in the region.
The group, known as ISIS, was not mentioned at Tuesday's hearing.
Health officials sought to tamp down fears of an Ebola outbreak in the United States, saying the American medical system is well-equipped to handle hemorrhagic viruses.
But Fauci cautioned that Ebola will continue to mutate in ways that might prove dangerous unless the virus is contained.
The disease is currently spread through bodily fluids, usually to caregivers or burial workers. There is a possibility it could become airborne over time, though the chance is slim, he said.
"It is an unusual situation where a mutation would completely change the way a virus is transmitted. It is not impossible but it would be unlikely."
"We never take anything like that lightly," he added. "Changing transmissibility … is obviously something that could be a frightening thing."
The comments came during Congress's first hearing on the current epidemic, just as President Obama announced new military efforts to stop Ebola in Liberia. Obama called the outbreak a "threat to global security" that demands U.S. action.