Bioterrorism is the intentional use of micro-organisms to cause ill-effects to humans, livestock and crops. The use of biological substances as a terror threat has been causing growing concern among government officials and public health organizations in recent times. Plague is a serious infectious disease caused by bacterium Yersinia pestis and is easily transmitted to human beings through fleas or direct exposure to the infected cells. Plague can be broadly categorized into three different clinical types including bubonic (regional lymphadenitis), pneumonic and septicemic.
This paper examines a biological terrorist attack intended to intentionally spread plague around southwestern United States. The biological terrorists plan to transmit the infectious bacterium which causes pneumonic plague through wide-spread aerosol attacks targeted across the entire geographical region. The air-borne infection easily spreads across the population in the form of tiny droplets released into the environment through coughing and close physical contact. Symptoms of pneumonic plague include severe upper respiratory infection and fever.
They also plan to transmit bubonic plague amongst the population by releasing animals / fleas infected with plague in the community. Bubonic plague is commonly transmitted through flea bites or exposure to the infection through cuts and aberrations in the skin. Symptoms of bubonic plague include swollen lymph glands, fever, chills and fatigue. The target population can be easily infected by pneumonic and bubonic plague either through air-borne infections or contact with an infected animal.
The infection tends to spread at an increasingly high rate and has potentially serious health related consequences in terms of complications and mortality. In case of an intentional plague outbreak the magnanimity of the outbreak would depend on factors including quantity of the biologic material disseminated, type of strains used and geographical / environmental factors. Intentional outbreaks can be easily identified when it affects populations without any prior risk factors and spreads in geographical regions not prone to zoonotic infections.
Certain key factors that distinguish between an natural and intentional outbreak of disease include – (a) The epidemiology of the disease including the pattern of the illness onset, clinical presentation and the number of infected cases within certain time duration would be significantly different. (b) Geographical location, weather patterns and presence of zoonotic infections influence natural outbreaks. (c) The rate of mortality, antimicrobial resistance and toxicity would be greater.
(d) Preventive measures taken and modes of treatment used to combat a natural outbreak are in a much smaller scale compared to an intentional outbreak. In case of a bioterrorist attack federal and local government agencies notifies the Centers for Disease control and prevention and other appropriate health care agencies to undertake an immediate emergency action plan. They work in close cooperation with hospitals, laboratories, emergency services and veterinarians to combat the biological terrorist attack. The strategic plan developed by the Centers for Disease control encompasses the following steps (a) preparedness and prevention.
(b) Detection and surveillance including provision of prophylactic medicines and antibiotics. (c) Diagnosis of the biological agents. (d) Response and communication which includes medical treatment and initiating preventive measures. Public health officials maintain large supplies of drugs and antibiotics like tetracycline and ciprofloxacin which are used to treat plague in case of major health crisis. The control measures taken to prevent spread of infection are isolation of individuals who are symptomatic and communicate the infection through direct or airborne contact.
Individuals who possess asymptomatic infections with a possibility of incubating the disease are quarantined. Hence, implementing the bioterrorism preparedness and response program developed by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention in close association with government health agencies will ensure that the bioterrorist attack is handled effectively preventing valuable loss of life and associated health related complications. Works Cited – Bioterrorism Index. (2009). Retrieved May 17th, 2009, from Medicinenet. com Website:
http://www. medicinenet. com/bioterrorism/index. htm Bioterrorism. (n. d). Retrieved May 16th, 2009 from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Website: http://emergency. cdc. gov/bioterrorism/ Biological attack human pathogens, biotoxins and agricultural threats. (2004). Retrieved May 17th, 2009 from The National Academies Website:http://www. nae. edu/NAE/pubundcom. nsf/weblinks/CGOZ6C2MCR/$file/Biological%20Attack%2006. pdf Plague. (2009). Retrieved May 17th, 2009 from WD Website: http://www. wrongdiagnosis. com/p/plague/intro. htm