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Preventing the Use of Biological Weapons: Improving Response Should Prevention Fail

NCJ Number
Clinical Infectious Diseases Volume: 30 Issue: 6 Dated: 2000 Pages: 926-929
Thomas V. Inglesby; Tara O'Toole; Donald A. Henderson
Date Published
4 pages
This article provides an overview of the nature of the challenges posed by biological weapons and offers ways by which the infectious diseases (ID) professional community might address them.
Biological weapons are devices intended to deliberately disseminate disease-producing organisms or toxins in food, water, by insect vector, or as an aerosol. The scope and impact of an epidemic caused by a biological weapon would depend on the characteristics of the pathogen or toxin, the design of the weapon or delivery system, the environment in which the weapon was used, and the speed and effectiveness of the medical and public health response. The technology associated with the manufacture of biological weapons is relatively inexpensive, and because it is similar to that used in vaccine production facilities, it is easy to obtain. The ID community has important contributions to make in crafting strategies to forestall the development or use of biological weapons. Prevention strategies include raising awareness among researchers and practitioners about the risk, and involving researchers from universities and industry in efforts to strengthen the Biological Weapons and Toxin Convention. Also prevention involves creating mechanisms to consider appropriate scientific response to research with potential bioweapons application, and supporting programs that seek to employ former bioweaponeers in peaceful pursuits. Existing prevention strategies are insufficient to guarantee that biological weapons will not be used. The following actions should be taken by the ID community: raising awareness and providing education to the ID professional; improving laboratory diagnosis; developing systems for distributing therapeutics, and examining hospital response; and seeking scientific research for new strategies for diagnosis, prevention, and treatment for ID. 29 references.