Mary Theresa Urbano - Definition

Definition

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

A bioterrorism attack is the deliberate release of viruses, bacteria, toxins or other harmful agents used to cause illness or death in people, animals, or plants. These agents are typically found in nature, but it is possible that they could be mutated or altered to increase their ability to cause disease, make them resistant to current medicines, or to increase their ability to be spread into the environment. Biological agents can be spread through the air, water, or in food. Terrorists tend to use biological agents because they are extremely difficult to detect and do not cause illness for several hours to several days. Some bioterrorism agents, like the smallpox virus, can be spread from person to person and some, like anthrax, cannot.

Bioterrorism is an attractive weapon because biological agents are relatively easy and inexpensive to obtain, can be easily disseminated, and can cause widespread fear and panic beyond the actual physical damage they can cause. Military leaders, however, have learned that, as a military asset, bioterrorism has some important limitations; it is difficult to employ a bioweapon in a way that only the enemy is affected and not friendly forces. A biological weapon is useful to terrorists mainly as a method of creating mass panic and disruption to a state or a country. However, technologists such as Bill Joy have warned of the potential power which genetic engineering might place in the hands of future bio-terrorists.

The use of agents that do not cause harm to humans but disrupt the economy have been discussed. A highly relevant pathogen in this context is the foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) virus, which is capable of causing widespread economic damage and public concern (as witnessed in the 2001 and 2007 FMD outbreaks in the UK), whilst having almost no capacity to infect humans.

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