When research is mobilized around combating a virulent infectious agent, risk-taking is inevitable. That has been true in the pursuit of a polio vaccine and a cure for smallpox, in the study of cancer-causing viruses, and most recently, in AIDS research.

While the responsible course of action is to limit as much as possible the risks to investigators and laboratory technicians, those goals can only be accomplished within certain limits. Infectious organisms are opportunistic, always seeking new hosts and hew pathways to old hosts. Even under the highest biological containment conditions, laboratory workers have been infected with their experimental agents. While the risks of working with laboratory pathogens cannot be eliminated, strict guidelines, health monitoring, improved facilities, and constant vigilance have proven effective in reducing the incidence of laboratory infections.

Beyond the risk of laboratory induced infections, working with some organisms poses a risk that the agents will be released...

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