Bioterrorism Attacks – The Next Frontier

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH


Bioterrorism attacks: Strange epidemic of flu-like symptomsInitial signs and symptoms are quite mild — people showing up at doctors’ offices or emergency rooms with teary eyes, runny noses, and headaches- typical flu-like symptoms. Only the numbers keep growing, and these symptoms worsen over time. Patients start dying after a few days. Other problems including bleeding, ulcer type lesions, difficulty breathing alert medical personnel to the possibility of the unthinkable: bioterrorism attacks on a civilian population.

The body is a unit, made up for many systems. Often, biological weapons target one system in our body, but have effects throughout. Part of this can be explained by the neuroendocrine metabolic (NEM) response. The body has natural ways of clearing toxins and detoxifying the body, and fighting off disease through the liver and kidneys, and immune response respectively. Biological warfare, however, often uses bacterial diseases or toxins that tend to overwhelm our body, so even our natural defenses cannot work. The NEM response is not sufficient enough to maintain balance and health. If bioterrorism attacks are suspected, you must seek a healthcare professional.

Likely Biological Weapons

The two most likely biological agents in bioterrorism attacks are anthrax and smallpox.

Anthrax is a deadly bacterial disease spread by spores and generally confined to sheep, cattle, horses, goats and pigs. The lethal dose of anthrax spores can be as little as one-billionth of a gram. If 50 pounds of it were disbursed in a city of half a million people, about 100,000 would die within a few days to a week. It kills about 90% of those it infects. It does not spread from person to person.

Smallpox was declared eradicated worldwide in 1980. While not as lethal, it kills only about 30% of those it infects but is highly infectious. Since its eradication, little vaccine is saved. Whatever is available is in small quantity. Since vaccination no longer occurs, an entire generation is open and susceptible to attack. was declared eradicated worldwide in 1980. While not as lethal, it kills only about 30% of those it infects but is highly infectious. Since its eradication, little vaccine is saved. Whatever is available is in small quantity. Since vaccination no longer occurs, an entire generation is open and susceptible to attack.

All that is needed to cause a heavy death toll is a small private plane with a bag of powdery bacterial spores. The spores are distributed while in flight.

A small cloud of bacteria or viruses could easily and silently infect thousands of people, triggering fatal outbreaks of anthrax, smallpox, pneumonic plague and many unimaginable diseases. Due to the highly contagious nature of these microbes, victims infected easily pass on to others. No hostage is required, and the terrorist can be home in time for dinner instead of ending it all in a suicidal inferno.

The two most likely chemical agents, experts said, would be nerve gases such as sarin or VX, which attacks the nervous system, and mustard gas, which causes death by deadly internal and external blistering.

Bioterrorism Attacks

Biological warfare is not new. After the Iran-Iraq war, U.N. weapons inspectors discovered that Iraq had stockpiled warheads containing anthrax spores and the toxin that causes botulism. Obviously someone has already thought through the most destructive way to take lives aside from missiles alone. In 1995, Aum Shinrikyo, the Japanese religious cult, released sarin nerve gas in the Tokyo subway system, killing and injuring hundreds. Of course that is only the tip of the iceberg.

It is known that at least five countries that are known to sponsor international terrorism have acquired the capacity to produce biological weapons.

If attacks do occur they will most certainly happen in densely populated metropolitans.

What Can You Do

  1. Know where you nearest hospital is in case of Bioterrorism Attacks Stay clear of major urban centers and malls.
  2. Have a good supply of basic essentials such as water, can goods to last at least 30 days.
  3. Know how to get to a nearby hospital.
  4. Study ways to deal with toxic gases. Certain types of gas mask have limited effect. The good ones usually run around 200 US dollars . It is unlikely that toxic gas will be used, because the yield is far lower than germ warfare. Nevertheless it is good to have ready protection on hand.
  5. Make sure you are protected from germ warfare. This is relatively simple to do. A good surgical mask to filter the air you breath, and a gas mask will not do the job. Get a surgical mask that can filter organisms down to 0.1 micron. They are fairly inexpensive, about US 20 cents a piece. For further protection, apply tape around the edge of the mask to have a better seal.
  6. In case of an attack, go west (winds usually blow from east to west)


Bioterrorism attacks

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