Biological Warfare and Rabies

In 1973, when I was 13 years old, my father Dr Brian Senewiratne unexpectedly came home from the Kandy Hospital (in Sri Lanka) and told me to get into the car. He said he had something to show me.I thought he was taking me to “The Lab” as it was called, but instead he took me to a small dark room containing a single man who was lying on a bed. My father said to my horror, “This man is dying of rabies”. He then pointed to the air-conditioner on the wall. “We have heard that rabies can be transmitted through air-conditioners” so we are going to have to stop our research”.” I remember the event because I was terrified. I had been previously told that rabies is the most deadly virus known to man.I was familiar with the fact that my father had been injecting rabies into white rabbits that his cousin Terence Senewiratne was breeding at the Peradeniya University. I did not know why or the fact that rabbits were being used to “harvest” the rabies virus. I also did not know anything about biological warfare, though a year later my cousins in Colombo told me about what were called “cold weapons” and that these had proliferated during the ‘Cold War’.I discussed his rabies research and experiments with my father over the phone in 2001 and again in 2011 and 2017. His account has significantly changed, though he did not deny taking me to the hospital to see the dying man. He defended his actions and so did my mother, who suggested that maybe it was something I wanted to do.In 2001 my father told me that he had performed an experimental procedure on 6 people with rabies, all of whom had died. The experiment was to insert a lumbar puncture needle and siphon off the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) replacing it with “saline with some added protein”. The scientific rationale was to “reduce the viral load”.I asked what he did with the infectious cerebrospinal fluid. He said, back in 2001, that they “irradiated it and dumped it somewhere in Kandy”. He said this involved on of his friends in the radiology department. I expressed concern that irradiating a virus could lead it to mutate.When I asked him about this in 2011 he claimed that rather than irradiating the CSF he had “put it in formalin and disposed of it”. He also said that he had only done the procedure on one patient. He also denied that they were infecting rabbits with rabies.

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