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Swiss Laboratory seeks to reassure anxious citizens

Microscopic view of anthrax bacteria swissinfo.ch

Switzerland's National Laboratory for Nuclear, Chemical and Biological Weapons Defence has set up a hotline to reassure people concerned about the threat from terrorism.

This content was published on October 12, 2001 - 07:31

The laboratory has been flooded with calls over the past few days, following cases of anthrax discovered in the United States. One man in Florida died after coming into contact with deadly anthrax spores, and two more are ill.

Hans Rudolf Indermuhle, chief spokesman for the laboratory, said it was natural for people to be concerned.

"We have a lot of people in Switzerland who are worried about the situation in the United States, and who are worried about international terrorism," Indermuhle told swissinfo.

Indermuhle added that the laboratory was also receiving calls from the media and other interested parties, such as health officials, who needed more precise information about chemical and biological weapons.

No real danger

But staff at the laboratory are keen to reassure people that there is no real danger of a biological or chemical attack in Switzerland.

"It's not really a question of there being a real threat," said Indermuhle, "but we do need to reassure people who call in asking how they can protect themselves and so on."

In fact, as Indermuhle pointed out, trying to protect oneself from a biological or chemical attack is not a realistic proposition at the moment.

"Of course people could protect themselves," he said, "but it would mean wearing a protective mask all the time and that's just not reasonable when there is no great danger in Switzerland."

Scientists at the laboratory also pointed out that, contrary to some reports in the media, using biological or chemical weapons in a terrorism attack would not be an easy task.

"In fact it would be very complicated to do such a thing successfully," said Indermuhle, "to produce and then attack with biological or chemical weapons would be extremely difficult. Even if you are a scientist it is very complicated."

Anthrax not a worry

Indermuhle also said people should not be overly concerned by the cases of anthrax which have occurred in the United States.

"Obviously it is a very terrible thing that one man has died," said Indermuhle, "but it is important to remember that it is only one fatality. People don't need to be alarmed."

Furthermore, Indermuhle pointed out that anthrax is present all over the world in the soil, and is completely harmless in these cases.

"Everywhere there are farms with cows and sheep you will find anthrax in the soil", said Indermuhle, "but it poses no threat to health whatsoever."

Nevertheless Indermuhle said staff at the laboratory understood that people were concerned, and had set up the hotline for all those with questions or worries.

"As the official laboratory in Switzerland responsible for these matters it is our duty to provide information where it is needed," said Indermuhle, "and we are ready to answer questions wherever they arise".

The hotline telephone number in Switzerland is 033 228 16 29

by Imogen Foulkes

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