Bioterrorism represents one of the most fundamentally difficult challenges for healthcare providers and governments alike. Namely, how does one reduce the potential effects of a terrorist biological attack while simultaneously minimizing public anxiety and the trimming of civil liberties? The answer, perhaps unsurprisingly, lies in education and substantial preventive measures.
The website for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) host a tremendous amount of information for public officials, healthcare providers, and the general public. Bioterrorist attacks, like many other threats, are categorized depending on several factors: communicability (the rate at which the agent spreads from person to person), mortality, general risk toward cohesive society (in terms of potential disruption of services and public panic), and finally, the degree to which these agents require public education and special preventive measures. The CDC in particular uses an A, B, C rating system, with the most serious agents for a potential bioterrorist attack placed in Category A. Since some of these biological agents would be incredibly disruptive to routine civilian activity, proper education and safety protocols are essential.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also help healthcare providers by providing a list of the most likely bio terrorism agents as well as an explanation of specific symptoms and training for first responders. There are readily available case definitions that provide physicians with the knowledge to make a sound diagnosis. There are also several varieties of laboratory information for the various agents, with accompanying literature on cultures, biosafety procedures, and response training. Information on the history of bioterrorism and bioterrorist attacks is also provided. Finally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also offer a number of accessible articles regarding post-exposure treatment protocols for a wide variety of biological agents. Both healthcare providers and patients benefit from this information, as it would help to curb the massive strain on the healthcare delivery system in the face of a terrorist attack.
What would such a scenario look like, and how would the public navigate it? The extensiveness of the public quarantine would depend on the strength and virulence of the biological agent used. That is, a serious outbreak would likely prompt military involvement to limit civilian traffic at key checkpoints, with a possible total restriction on travel inside the quarantine area. Many of the biological agents listed on the CDC website have different incubation periods, symptoms, and methods of transmission. Special measures may need to be taken in order to purify water or food, depending on the extent of the attack.
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