Effects and Agents of Bioterrorism

The Threat of Bioterrorism in 21st Century

In the 21st century nothing has disrupted public life and global peace like terrorism. From AlQaeda to AL Shabab, these are all just various faces of terrorism. ISIS has also kept raising its hood from time to time. It is one of the major challenges that the current US government is trying to tackle. These terrorist camps would not refrain from using the deadliest weapons to cause terror and wreak havoc. From India to UK, France and US, several nations have faced the threat. Generally, we have seen the use of atomic and nuclear bombs result in destruction and doom. However, there is another threat that can be even deadlier. This deadly threat is known as bioterrorism. The use of biological weapons can cause death and doom at a larger scale.

Bioterrorism is a highly inhuman method that can be employed by terrorists to kill people and strike terror. Even bullets, missiles, and bombs do not spread death in as deadly a way as bio terrorism does. The bioterrorists use deadly viruses and germs to spread diseases and death.   While it is generally easier to fight against terrorists armed with weapons like guns, bombs and missiles, bioweapons are even hazardous and difficult to combat. Once they have been unleashed, it may be very difficult and costly to contain their effect. The problem is that the channels used by the bioterrorists for spreading viruses, bacteria or other deadly germs meant to cause diseases, are really difficult to discover. Sophisticated genetic engineering techniques have multiplied the effect of these viruses and the impact of bioweapons. Now, such agents have the potential to cause millions of deaths overnight.

Bioterrorists make use of microorganisms that can spread through air, water, food and personal contact.  The agents that have the ability to spread through air or water can spread rapidly and contaminate very large areas and population in no time. They can also cause devastation at a larger scale. You might have seen it in Hollywood movies that several forms of biological agents can cause deaths at a large scale. In future more sophisticated techniques could give birth to even dangerous viruses. It is not difficult to imagine the scale of death and doom that will occur given such weapons fall in the hands of the terrorists. While America has been able to lead the war against terrorism successfully to a large extent, still in various parts of the world, time to time, one or another terrorist group has tried to use biological agents for merciless murders.

The detection of such bioweapons is also difficult. They are not discovered easily and have the potential to cause slow and painful death. Many times it becomes impossible to detect their presence until the effects have fully showed up. In several cases, the effects show up hours after the weapon is unleashed. The effects of these agents can be multiplied by increasing their ability to resist the effect of drugs and vaccines. In history, armies have used such weapons against each other. Viruses of plague could be used to strike fear and cause large scale deaths in the enemy camp. With time, these viruses grew more and more sophisticated. Their spread and contamination became difficult to contain and their resistance against vaccines also grew.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has categorized these agents into three main categories. These categories are based upon the severity of illness they cause and the ease with which they can spread.

Category A agents:

Under this category are the highest priority biological agents. These agents which can include toxins and microorganisms pose the highest risk to public health and national security.

  • These agents can transmit easily from one person to another.
  • Their impact on public health can be deep and they can cause high death rates.
  • Can cause high scale panic and disruption.
  • Require special action for containment and protection of public health.
  1. Anthrax (Bacillus antracis)
  2. Botulism (Clostridium botulinum toxin)
  3. Plague (Yersinia pestis)
  4. Smallpox (Variola virus)
  5. Tularemia (Franciscella tularensis)
  6. Viral Hemorrhagic Fever (Arenaviruses, Bunyaviruses)

Category B agents:

These biological agents are second highest priority.

  • They spread with moderate ease.
  • Result in low death rates and moderate illness rates.
  • Require enhanced disease monitoring and specific enhancement of CDC’s lab capacity.

Category C agents:

This is the category of the third highest priority biological agents. They include emerging pathogens that could be engineered in future for mass spread.

  • They are easily available.
  • Can be produced and spread with relative ease.
  • Apart from high morbidity and mortality rates they have the potential to have a major health impact.

The 2001 Anthrax attacks must still be fresh in people’s minds.  Bacillus Anthracis is a spore forming bacterium that causes Anthrax, a highly infectious disease.  Botulism, Ebola, Haemmorhagic fevers, plague, small Pox are some of the most common diseases that can be caused by biological agents and which are a cause of worry for American authorities and scientists. The CDC website lists more than 40 such agents. CDC and American Red Cross provide information regarding preparedness and protection in the event of a bioterrorist attack. OSHA also provides information to protect worksite from Anthrax.

Bio terrorism has acquired a lethal form in the 21st century. However, it could grow more lethal as more sophisticated techniques to grow the devastating calibre of these agents are brought to use.  America has mounted a powerful biodefense and still it cannot foresee sudden attacks. It is why the focus has to be on preparedness. People also need to understand bioterror attacks and how they can be contained so they do not panic in the event of such an attack.