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Bioterrorism: Explained

Jessup, MD

A biological attack, or bioterrorism, is the deliberate release of bacteria, viruses, or other pathogens that can infect or kill humans, animals, or crops. The germs used in these attacks are found in nature. By increasing their ability to spread disease, and resist medical intervention, they can be made more harmful. Biological agents can be spread through the air, water, food, and even spread from person to person, which can be hard to detect. One of the most common agents to be used in a biological attack is bacillus anthracis, the bacteria that causes anthrax.

A bioterrorism attack in a public place is a public health emergency. The key to containing such attacks is early detection and rapid investigation. This helps ensure that the threat is under control in some capacity. In these types of situations, public health epidemiologists are crucial. A public health epidemiologist searches for the cause of diseases, identifies those at risk, and determines how to slow or prevent the spread from ever happening again.

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dangers of bioterrorism

The use of biological weapons has been reported as early as the sixth century B.C., when it was discovered that the Assyrians had contaminated the water supply with the fungus Claviceps purpurea (rye ergot). The two most often reported instances of poisoning are when the British introduced smallpox to the Native American population that supported the French in 1767 by giving them contaminated blankets. One other instance was when the Tartar army threw dead plague

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victims over the city walls of Kaffa in 1346. Therefore, bioterrorism is by no means a modern issue.

After various outbreaks occurred, they were investigated to further understand bioterrorism. During the investigations, numerous lessons were learned. The difficulties brought on by biological weapons include the availability of a variety of agents and delivery systems, varied incubation periods, high fatality rates, and the potential for geographic dispersion of the agent (due to travel during the incubation period). Scientists observed that, at times, it was challenging to differentiate between a biological attack and a natural disease outbreak. During the outbreak, many of the drugs/vaccines needed to combat the disease are not available or have limited shelflife, therefore, preventing the ability to stockpile them. This knowledge shows how there is still a lot to do to better protect citizens against the threat of bioterrorism.

One way bioterrorism is combatted is through biodefense, which protects people by using medical measures like medicines and vaccinations. Biodefense also includes medical research and preparations to defend against potential attacks. As previously stated, more severe action is needed to protect against bioterrorism because the current defense is simply not enough.

Although it is challenging to predict a bioterrorist attack, the repercussions of a successful attack could be catastrophic and cannot be disregarded. That is why it is essential that one is informed before it becomes a humongous threat to our public health care system.

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