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Biological Warfare - And Bioterrorism



In this day and age, it is theoretically possible for any infectious agent to be used as a biological weapon. Although the likelihood of a large-scale bioterrorism attack is thought to be low, it is still useful to realize what kinds of viruses can be used for biological warfare.

It takes a high level of technological and medical expertise for an enemy to spread such agents without first infecting themselves. In Japan, a bioterrorist group did attempt to disperse air-borne formulations of anthrax and botulism throughout Tokyo, however they were not successful. Historically, both the chemical compound ricin and the smallpox virus have been used in wars to kill and disable masses of people.

The powdered form of anthrax is the modern urban bioterrorism weapon of choice. Anthrax is normally contracted when the bacterium enters a cut or an abrasion on the skin after the handling of contaminated, leather, wool, hides or hair products. However recent events in the United States have had individuals checking their mailbox for more than a post card. When used as a powder, the recipient can easily inhale anthrax. This leads to certain illness and death in about 60 percent of people who encounter the substance.

Another deadly man-made compound is ricin. Less than one milligram of ricin can kill an adult within several days.


Below is a list of the most commonly used bioterrorism weapons and their symptoms.

* Small Pox - This serious viral disease is initially characterized by a high fever, aches and pains, fatigue and vomiting that progresses to a rash that covers the body with blisters. Smallpox is often confused with the chicken pox. Usually the disease is spread directly through airborne transmission (coughing). As it is a virus it does not respond to antibiotics, but a vaccine for the disease does exist.
* Anthrax - This potentially lethal infection begins with a fever that is greater than 100 degrees Fahrenheit and flu like symptoms such as sweating and the chills. This progresses to more serious symptoms such as an unproductive cough, chest discomfort, shortness of breath, fatigue, muscle soreness, sore throat, difficulty swallowing, enlarged lymph nose, headache nausea, loss of appetite, stomach cramps and diarrhea. A sore also accompanies all of these symptoms, usually a painless raised bump with a black area in the center.
* Ricin - The symptoms are stomach cramps, abominable pain, vomiting, bloody diarrhea, severe dehydration, a decrease in urine flow, low blood pressure and excess perspiration.


Inoculations can prevent an individual from contracting smallpox however most humans are defenseless in the event of a bioterrorist attack. An antibiotic such as Zithromax might be helpful in the event of an outbreak of SARS, a flu-like respiratory illness which has not been proved to be a bioterrorism invention, yet has already affected North American populations.

Federal, state, and local health authorities (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Public Health Service and County Public Health Offices) routinely conduct surveillance for a bioterrorist event. If an attack occurs, the local health agency) would rapidly advise the medical community (the AMA, the state medical society and individual physicians) of the attack by phone, fax. The media would also be contacted with recommendations for diagnosis and treatment, as well as preventive measures for the specific biological warfare agent involved.


In the event of a bioterrorism attack it may benefit you to have the following items in your possession as such threats can often cause a breakdown in normal societal routines.
* An antibiotic such as Zithromax
* Surgical mask
* Gas Masks
* Bottle drinking water that equals one gallon per day per person for at least seven days
* A supply of canned goods, a can opener and packaged non-perishable foods
* A blanket or sleeping bag for each family member as well as a change of clothes (in the event that you are relocated)
* Extra eyeglasses and prescriptions
* Supplies for infants, and disabled family members


If you believe you have been exposed to an infectious bioagent or if you develop symptoms that you believe might be associated with such an exposure, immediately contact a physician. Your physician may choose to contact the local health department to determine the best course of action based on the circumstances of the exposure.

Although there is little that you as an individual can do in advance to protect yourself from a bioterrorist attack, it is best for you to be as informed as possible about current events. Government agencies, health care institutions, and public health agencies can and are doing all they can to educate communities about this issue so that they are prepared for a biological disaster.


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