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U.S. troops participating in sarin gas and VX nerve agent training. The toxin used in the Salisbury, U.K., attack is up to 10 times more potent than VX. Photo: Leif Skoogfors / Corbis via Getty Images

The Novichok or N-series nerve agent — used in last week’s attack against Russian ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, U.K. — is distinct from the better known G- and V-series nerve agents, which unfortunately have become more familiar after their use in Syria and by terrorist groups.

How it works: Nerve agents interfere with neurotransmitters, causing involuntary muscle contractions, impaired cardiac function and airway restriction, potentially culminating in death by asphyxiation. They interfere with the nervous system in stages, making rapid decontamination and treatment essential.

Novichok is up to 10 times more potent than the VX that was used to kill the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un last year. It can penetrate NATO chemical protective gear and was specifically designed to be undetectable using NATO and U.K. sensors.

The bottom line: The use of Novichok represents a deadly game-changer for chemical warfare and nonproliferation. It demands global condemnation and an insistence that Russia account for how the nerve agent came to be used at all, much less on foreign soil.

Daniel M. Gerstein, a senior policy researcher at the RAND Corporation and adjunct professor at American University, was formerly the acting undersecretary for Science and Technology at the Department of Homeland Security.

Go deeper

Inside Trump's hunt for "disloyal" Republicans

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Donald Trump and his associates are systematically reshaping the Republican Party, working to install hand-picked loyalists across federal and state governments and destroy those he feels have been disloyal, sources close to the former president tell Axios.

Why it matters: If most or all of Trump’s candidates win, he will go into the 2024 election cycle with far more people willing to do his bidding who run the elections in key states.

52 mins ago - Politics & Policy

CPI: The new jobs number

Grocery shoppers in Washington, D.C., last month. Photo: Ting Shen/Xinhua via Getty Images

The Consumer Price Index has replaced the jobs report as the most anticipated data drop by the U.S. government.

Why it matters: Rising prices tend to lower political fortunes. Washington and Wall Street are now waiting for the CPI number to flash at 8:30am ET around the 10th day of each month. This month's report — due Friday morning — will give a reading of how hot inflation ran in November.

COVID cases and deaths are on the rise

Expand chart
Data: N.Y. Times; Cartogram: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

COVID-19 cases and deaths are rising all across the U.S. even before the Omicron variant takes hold.

Why it matters: The holidays — and the inevitable spread of Omicron — will only heighten the risks that unvaccinated Americans face from COVID, in all its forms.