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

One Nation, Indivisible

"Sometimes on the way to your dreams you get lost andfind a better one."

Thepast two months have seemed like a dream--a very bad one at that. From theterror that shook this nation on September 11th to the small acts ofbioterrorism having recently surfaced, we are seeing our world change rapidlybefore our eyes.

Since 1993, developments around the world have indicated that a build-up ofbiological weapons is making bioterrorism the next big threat. In 1993, theJapanese religious cult Aum Shinrikyo made an unsuccessful attempt to killthousands of Japanese citizens by releasing anthrax into the air, but they onlykilled birds. Their second attempt did find limited success through release ofthe 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 previouslymade numerous attempts at spreading disease via an aerosol release. They hadeven made an attempt to acquire ebola in Africa.

Other nations like Iraq, Iran, Libya, Syria, and North Korea, all consideredsupporters of terrorism, possess chemical weapons and some biological weapons.Even the former Soviet Union ran a sizable biological weapons program into theearly 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? Todate, we have yet to see a full-scale attack, but rather isolated instances thathave made the populous take notice. Why haven't the use of pathogens been morewidespread? 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 ofmedical conferences since the mid-1990s. Are we prepared to handle chemicalattacks? APIC and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have puttogether the document, "Bioterrorism Readiness Plan: A Template forHealthcare Facilities" which can be downloaded from provides information on general categorical recommendations for any suspectedbioterrorism 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 haveseen 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