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EPI WATCH: Bomb vs. Bacteria: Bioterrorism
Bioterrorism is defined as the deliberate or threatened use of biological agents, viruses, bacteria, toxins, or
other agents to cause illness or death in people, animals or plants. Pound for pound, the use of weaponized
biological agents is more devastating to a population than a hydrogen bomb, in fact, it has been estimated that
if 100 kilograms of anthrax was aerosolized in a city the area of Washington D.C. there is the potential for up to
three million casualties. Furthermore, in contrast to its nuclear counterpart, biological agents can be relatively
easy and inexpensive to produce.1
What are the characteristics of biological weapons?
The ideal biological weapon has been described as one that is extremely toxic, highly infectious, communicable
among humans, environmentally stable (for long term storage and dispersal), complex medical response, and
is easy to grow and modify.1
How are biological weapons classified?
Biological weapons have been classified into three categories (A, B and C) based on four criteria: 1) ease of
dissemination or transmission, 2) high mortality rates and public health impact, 3) capacity for public panic and
social disruption, and 4) specialized action for public health preparedness.1 Category A bioweapons have been
classified as such due to ease of disseminations and/or contagious capacity; high mortality, high ability to
disrupt society, and requirement for special action of public health preparedness.
What to watch out for?
Any case of a recognized bioterrorism agent is to be treated as a sentinel event and warrants a thorough
investigation, especially in non-endemic regions. Familiarity with the local incidence, demographic and
geographic distribution of these disease in the United States would be useful in identifying cases. Thus,
clustered reports in different demographic groups may suggest potential bioterrorism.3
1. Pal M, Tsegaye M, Girzaw F, Bedada H, Godishala V, Kandi V. An Overview on Biological Weapons and Bioterrorism. American Journal of Biomedical Research. (2017). 5(2):24-34.
2. The National Academies and Department of Homeland Security. Biological Attack human pathogens, biotoxins, and agricultural threats. News & Terrorism Communicating in a crisis. 2004.
3. Chang M, Glynn K, Groseclose S. Endemic, Notifiable Bioterrorism-Related Diseases, United States, 1992-1999. Emerging Infectious Diseases. (2003). 9(5):556-564.
4. Anthrax Bacteria Image Source: http://zarga.us/image/data/Vaccination/BACILLUS-ANTHRACIS.png