Infection Control Today - 11/2001: One Nation, Indivisible

One Nation, Indivisible

"Sometimes on the way to your dreams you get lost and find a better one."
--Anonymous

The past two months have seemed like a dream--a very bad one at that. From the terror that shook this nation on September 11th to the small acts of bioterrorism having recently surfaced, we are seeing our world change rapidly before our eyes.

Since 1993, developments around the world have indicated that a build-up of biological weapons is making bioterrorism the next big threat. In 1993, the Japanese religious cult Aum Shinrikyo made an unsuccessful attempt to kill thousands of Japanese citizens by releasing anthrax into the air, but they only killed birds. Their second attempt did find limited success through release of the chemical nerve gas Sarin into the subways of Tokyo, killing 12. This group, it turns out, had built a sizable biological weapons arsenal and had previously made numerous attempts at spreading disease via an aerosol release. They had even made an attempt to acquire ebola in Africa.

Other nations like Iraq, Iran, Libya, Syria, and North Korea, all considered supporters of terrorism, possess chemical weapons and some biological weapons. Even the former Soviet Union ran a sizable biological weapons program into the early 1990s. Scientists trained in these programs could be very dangerous. Why? Because they hold the knowledge these terrorist groups desire.

Are bio-weapons too complex for terrorist cells to develop and implement? To date, we have yet to see a full-scale attack, but rather isolated instances that have made the populous take notice. Why haven't the use of pathogens been more widespread? It may be:

  • Fear of having these weapons backfire and infect the terrorists themselves
  • Difficulty using these agents
  • Moral dilemma
  • Cost of developing a substantial supply of the chemical agents

Chemical threats are now a reality. Bioterrorism has long been the talk of medical conferences since the mid-1990s. Are we prepared to handle chemical attacks? APIC and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have put together the document, "Bioterrorism Readiness Plan: A Template for Healthcare Facilities" which can be downloaded from www.apic.org/educ/readinow.html. It provides information on general categorical recommendations for any suspected bioterrorism event, such as:

  • Reporting requirements and contact information
  • Potential agents
  • Detection of outbreaks caused by agents of bioterrorism
  • Post-exposure management
  • Laboratory support and confirmation
  • Patient, visitor, and public information
  • Agent Specific Recommendations covering: anthrax, botulism, plague, and smallpox.

Chemical and biological terrorism is a reality that we now have to live with. Out of this madness we have seen many acts of heroism, but even better, we have seen a divided nation once again become indivisible.

We will awaken from this bad dream. We will see that good does conquer evil, and that the US really is the land of hopes and dreams.


Bill Eikost, Publisher
[email protected] 

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