Biological Terrorism (also known as Bioterrorism)
What is Bioterrorism?
Bioterrorism is the unlawful release of a biological agent (bacteria, viruses or toxins) with the intent to intimidate or coerce a government or civilian population to further political or social objectives. Humans, animals and plants can be sickened or killed by the biological agent used in the attack.
A biological agent can usually be found in nature; however, a terrorist might modify the agent to increase its ability to cause disease, make it resistant to current medicines or to increase its ability to be spread into the environment. Some bioterrorism agents, like the smallpox virus, can be spread from person to person and some, like anthrax, can not.
A bioterrorism attack can not be expected to occur with the same exposure you would associate with conventional terrorism (such as a bomb or hijacking). There is not likely to be an explosion or fire signaling that a bioterrorism attack has taken place. The event could go undetected until people started to show signs and symptoms compatible with illnesses caused by an agent. It could take several hours to several days for signs and symptoms to appear.
Doctors, hospitals and public health professionals are likely to detect a bioterrorist event before traditional first responders (Police, Fire or EMS). If a bioterrorism attack is identified quickly, public health workers will be able to control it much faster and reduce the number of people infected. An unusual number of patients with similar illnesses in a given location or illnesses seen in unusual populations (i.e. the chicken pox virus seen in adults) might make public health officials suspicious that a bioterrorism event has occurred.
Why would terrorists use biological weapons?
Terrorists may choose biological weapons because they can be extremely difficult to detect and do not instantly cause illness. Because there is a delay between a release and the onset of illness, it takes more time for authorities to conclude that there has been an attack. Once you consider that there usually is not a large explosion or visible hot zone, terrorists have a greater chance of avoiding detection. Although bioterrorism requires technical knowledge, biological weapons are cheaper than nuclear or radiological weapons.
(Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
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