JOURNAL ARTICLE
REVIEW

Bioterrorism

M G Kortepeter, T J Cieslak, E M Eitzen
Journal of Environmental Health 2001, 63 (6): 21-4
11381472
Although biological agents have been used in warfare for centuries, several events in the past decade have raised concerns that they could be used for terrorism. Revelations about the sophisticated biological-weapons programs of the former Soviet Union and Iraq have heightened concern that countries with offensive-research programs, including those that sponsor international terrorism, might assist in the proliferation of agents, culturing capability, and dissemination techniques, and might benefit in these undertakings from the availability of skilled laboratory technicians. Release of sarin nerve agent in the Tokyo subway system in 1995 by the Aum Shinrikyo cult demonstrated that in the future terrorists might select unconventional weapons. Certain properties of biological pathogens may make them the ideal terrorist weapon, including 1) ease of procurement, 2) simplicity of production in large quantities at minimal expense, 3) ease of dissemination with low technology, and 4) potential to overwhelm the medical system with large numbers of casualties. Dissemination of a biological agent would be silent, and the incubation period allows a perpetrator to escape to great distances from the area of release before the first ill persons seek medical care. Countermeasures include intelligence gathering, physical protection, and detection systems. Medical countermeasures include laboratory diagnostics, vaccines, and medications for prophylaxis and treatment. Public health, medical, and environmental health personnel need to have a heightened awareness, through education, about the threat from biological agents.

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