Biological terrorism is the use of biologic agents (bacteria, viruses, parasites, or biological toxins) to intentionally produce disease or intoxication in a susceptible population to meet terrorist aims.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have listed a group of diseases that are of highest concern because they have one or more of these characteristics: can be easily spread person to person; can cause high mortality; can cause public panic and fear; or can require special action for public health preparedness. This "Category A" list includes the biological agents that cause anthrax, plague, smallpox, botulism, tularemia, and the viral hemorrhagic fevers such as Ebola.
The likelihood of a large-scale bioterrorist event is currently thought to be low, given the level of technical sophistication required to develop a weapon to disperse the biological weapon in the manner necessary to infect massive numbers of people. However, since the events of September 11, which too was thought to be of low probability, the Local County Department of Health, together with regional planners and state officials, is focusing its efforts on improving the ability to respond to such and event, should it occur.
Jefferson County has emergency response plans in place to deal with hazardous chemical or biological events, as well as other disasters and is currently working to strengthen these plans. These plans involve the coordination of multiple agencies involved in law enforcement, public health, fire, emergency medical services, and disaster response, in conjunction with other city, county, state, and federal officials. For example, Public Health has developed systems for rapid detection and investigation of disease outbreaks that could be the first indication of a biological attack. Early detection will be very important so that persons at risk can be identified and managed appropriately.
Smallpox is a serious, contagious, and sometimes fatal infectious disease caused by variola virus. There currently is no specific treatment for smallpox disease, and the only prevention is vaccination. (However, current efforts are underway to evaluate antiviral agents that might be effective in treating smallpox, and there have been some very initial results with the drug cidofovir that suggest it may be useful.) Patients with smallpox can benefit from supportive therapy (e.g., intravenous fluids, medicine to control fever or pain) and antibiotics for any secondary bacterial infections that may occur.
Smallpox is spreads from contact with an infected person, such as direct face-to-face contact. It can also be spread through direct contact with infected body fluids or contaminated objects such as bedding or clothing. It's rarely spread through the air, but has been known to spread in enclosed settings such as small buildings, buses, and trains. Smallpox is infectious once a rash appears and until the last smallpox scab falls off.
Yes, but on a very limited scale. In 1984, 750 people became ill after eating from salad bars that had been intentionally contaminated with salmonella (a diarrheal disease) by followers of a religious cult (the Bagwan Rajneesh) in a small town in Oregon in an attempt to influence a local election.
Currently, the vaccine is not available to the general public. Right now, as a precautionary measure, the vaccine will only be available to members of emergency response teams. However, in the event of a smallpox outbreak, everyone will be offered the vaccine.
Anthrax vaccine is only available to members of the military, since they may be at higher risk of exposure because of their occupation. At this time, public health officials do not recommend routine vaccination of civilians with anthrax vaccine. In the event of exposure, treatment with antibiotics and subsequent vaccination will be provided.
What can I do to protect my family against biological terrorism?Prepare as you would for any emergency (i.e. flood or earthquake), including ensuring that you have a portable radio with sufficient batteries, flashlight, and several days' supply of food and water for your family. Have a plan to contact all family members if something happens during hours of the day when your family members may be separated. Public Health or other authorized agency will use the news media to release information and instructions you may need to protect your health.
We continue to hear stories of the public buying gas masks and hoarding medicine in anticipation of a possible bioterrorist or chemical attack. We do not recommend either. As Secretary Thompson said recently, people should not be scared into thinking they need a gas mask. In the event of a public health emergency, local and state health departments will inform the pubic about the actions individuals need to take.
The United States public water supply system is one of the safest in the world. The general public should continue to drink and use water just as they would under normal conditions. Your local water treatment supplier and local governments are on the alert for any unusual activity and will notify you immediately in the event of any public health threat. At this point, we have no reason to believe that additional measures need to be takes.
The U.S. Environment Protection Agency (EPA) is the lead federal agency that makes recommendations about water utility issues. The EPA is working closely with the CDC and the US Departments of Defense & Energy to help water agencies assess their systems, determine actions that need to be taken to guard against possible attach, and develop emergency response plans. For more information, visit http://www.epa.gov/safewater.