Bioterrorism, according to the definition is; the use of harmful biological substances for terrorism. Bioterrorism is also the deliberate use of living organisms or their by-products (toxins) to inflict harm to susceptible humans, animals, plants, or the environment by individuals, state-sponsored groups, insurgents, rebels, nonaligned terrorists, splinter groups, or lone offenders, to cause societal panic or menace societal safety and stability. Examples of biological weapons and bioterrorism activities include: bioterrorist attacks and development of botulinum toxin, anthrax, cholera, and Q fever for bioterrorist use in Japan by Aum Shinrikyo; assassination of two Bulgarian traitors, Vladimir Kostov and Georgi Markov, by ricin ammunition in a small bullet shot by a modified umbrella; ricin bioterrorism attack in U.K. (Yang & Keim, 2012). It is a term that has been in circulation among the public for roughly 16 years after the September 11 anthrax-letters.
This might seem too far away for any of us to immediately relate to so we could cut off some distance and bring it a little closer to home. We know of human beings used as weapons during warfare in form of suicide bombers and during chemical warfare. The primary ingredient for a terrorist attack is “intent.” Being used as a carrier for a biological weapon is also something that could easily be done or achieved considering the pace at which the world moves now. For every incidence of a breakout, there is a cause or causes, path (line of spread) and a timeline. We know of bioterrorism when we see it on news headlines, newspaper articles or on social media or to put it rightly, we hear about it but most of us may not be able to fathom it and so some of us may not be able to appreciate the seriousness of such cases. The important questions that should be on the average person’s mind is “how would/does this affect me?”, “how would I identify a bioterrorist threat or be able to manage it in case of an eventuality?”
If we must, we should go back to basics and begin there; the cause, the path and the timeline. With that in mind, we could answer the questions this could present.
- How would this affect me? This could first present it as having an obvious answer; I mean the gore, death, pain. Maybe a little too dramatic but yes, a bioterrorist attack would cause serious damage on a major scale if not properly contained in the early stages. It could lead to displacement of people and separation of families apart from loss of lives, a plunge in the economy, exhaustion of resources (medical, water and food) and of course paranoia which is different from the side-effects a disease outbreak could cause. Paranoia in a more psychological sense, not being able to trust yourself or anyone for that matter because you would be more worried about contracting the disease and not exactly not thinking about prevention or treatment. Since emotional side-effects cannot exactly be adequately predicted or prepared for, the psychological effect would vary per individual and is usually higher in those who have not presented symptoms of the disease. Properly equipping yourself with this knowledge is not guarantee that you would know how to contain your emotions in the event of a bioterrorist attack, but then again we are addressing the issue of what this could mean for you and among the many eventualities, this is one of them.
- How would I identify a bioterrorist threat or be able to manage it in case of an eventuality? The answer to this would be disappointing for many of you, and for that I apologize but all is not lost. As individuals, there is not much we can do to identify bioterrorist attacks except in extreme cases where symptoms present themselves and it could be too late to do anything in the sense of prevention by then. On a larger scale however, government institutions and facilities could prepare for a bioterrorist attack and adequately secure our borders. Whether we are at that stage yet in this country, is another issue on its own but then again this is an answer to a question and not a solution in itself.
The world today is at war for reasons I’m sure most of us do not understand but then we would still have family members who enlist for the army, trying to fight for their country and I wonder if they ever find an answer for the senselessness they were thrown into. That is the world we live in, and trying to turn a blind eye would not solve anything but we can try and play our part and equip ourselves with adequate knowledge so we are never caught off-guard in any situation.