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Bioterrorism - Why Concern Now-1 (Lecture 11)

Bioterrorism - Why Concern Now-1 (Lecture 11) - Special...

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505 Vol. 5, No. 4, July August 1999 Emerging Infectious Diseases Special Issue For a biological attack to occur, three elements must be in place: a vulnerable target, a person or group with the capability to attack, and the intent (by the perpetrator) to carry out such an attack. Much of what can be done to limit the capability and the intent of potential attackers is already on its way to being accomplished. The most work, and the highest return on investment, involve reducing the vulnerability of the United States to both intentional and unintentional pathogen releases. Vulnerability to Biological Attack Among weapons of mass destruction, biological weapons are more destructive than chemical weapons, including nerve gas. In certain circumstances, biological weapons can be as devastating as nuclear ones a few kilograms of anthrax can kill as many people as a Hiroshima-size nuclear weapon (Figure). The United States is unprepared to deal with a biological attack. Over the past several years, preparedness strides have been made, especially in the largest cities. However, much of the needed equipment is not available. Pathogen sensors are not in place to detect that a biological attack has taken place. New medicines are needed. In combating terrorist attacks, treat- ment is a more practical approach than prevention; yet many biological agents are extremely difficult to treat with existing medicines once the symptoms appear. In addition, many of the most important prophylactic drugs have limited shelf lives and cannot be stockpiled. More- over, their effectiveness could be compromised by a sophis- ticated attacker. Local emergency medical response capability is lim- ited. A number of localities define a mass casualty event as one with more than a dozen casualties, far fewer than an intentional biological release could cause. Emer- gency room capacity in major cities can be overwhelmed all too quickly by more common emergencies. Much emer- gency medical capability is also located in downtown areas that may be targeted for attack. The National Disaster Medical System has voluntary access to approximately 100,000 The Threat of Biological Attack: Why Concern Now? David W. Siegrist Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, Arlington, Virginia, USA Address for correspondence: David W. Siegrist, Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, 1600 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 1200, Arlington, VA 22209, USA; fax: 703-525-0299; e-mail: [email protected] Figure. Effects of a nuclear and a biological weapons release.
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506 Emerging Infectious Diseases Vol. 5, No. 4, July August 1999 Special Issue hospital beds across the country to cope with a large-scale medical emergency. However, not all of those beds have the specialized means for patient respiration and supportive therapy that may be needed in a crisis. Such equipment is not available in large numbers (>5,000), even from deployable field hospital Department of Defense war stocks (1). Further, current federal plans favor not evacuating injured people from the affected area but may relocate patients who were already in hospitals to free up local bed space (2).
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Bioterrorism - Why Concern Now-1 (Lecture 11) - Special...

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