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From September 17, 2001

Biological Warfare Dwarfs Other Terrorism Threats

Biological warfare, or bioterrorism, could well be the nation's biggest threat. For a terrorist, it's as simple as dumping a bag of powdery bacterial spores while in flight. According to today's issue of The Washington Post, a small cloud of bacteria or viruses could easily infect tens of thousands of people, triggering fatal outbreaks of anthrax, smallpox or pneumonic plague.

Bioterrorists could also target agriculture. The solution for disease-causing pathogens purposely introduced into crops or for an imported plant or animal disease is to destroy hosts, which would provoke widespread pesticide use. This may in turn lead to human health and environmental problems. It could also devastate the economy and people may go hungry, according to USA Today Magazine article.

A report written by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in January 2001 concluded that our public health infrastructure is "not adequate to detect and respond to a bioterrorist event." The CDC says the early detection and control of biological and chemical attacks depends on a strong and flexible public health system. "Primary health-care providers throughout the United States must be vigilant because they will probably be the first to observe and report unusual illness or injuries," recommends the CDC. For information on the CDC's Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response program, click here.

Bioterrorism was used as early as the fourteenth century. Barbarians threw corpses infected with the plague over the walls of cities to spread the deadly infection among their enemies. In the mid-1990s, U.N. weapons inspectors found that Iraq stockpiled warheads containing anthrax spores and a toxin that causes botulism.