Bioterrorism: How to Protect Yourself

There's been a lot of talk recently in the news about biological warfare and bioterrorism. Unlike a bomb explosion or an exchange of gunfire, a biological attack may go unnoticed for a period of time until a pattern of illness is detected. How can you protect yourself and your family? Using common sense can go a long way, but there are other precautions you can take. Read on to learn more. 
What Is Bioterrorism?
The intentional use of biological agents -- viruses (such as small pox), bacteria (such as anthrax), microorganisms, or toxins derived from living organisms -- as a weapons to cause death or disease. Many of these agents must be inhaled, enter through a cut in the skin, or be eaten to make you sick. Some agents, such as anthrax, are not contagious. Others, such as the smallpox virus, can result in an epidemic of disease.
The Threat of Biological Weapons
Many experts believe biological weapons pose a greater threat than chemical or nuclear wapons because the organisms can multiply and spread through an entire population. It has also been suggested that the power of these weapons lies as much with the threat of deployment as with the actual deployment. It is a form of pyschological terrorism that induces fear, confusion, and uncertainty in everyday life.
What to Do in the Event of a Biological Emergency
If public health officials declare an actual biological emergency, stay informed of what's going on. You should find out:

  • Where is the danger located?
  • What are the signs and/or sympoms of the disease?
  • Are medications or vaccines being distributed? Who should get them?
  • Where should you go for emergency medical care if you become sick?

Symptoms and Hygiene
If you or someone in your family becomes sick, be cautious, but don't assume it's the result of the biological attack. Always use common sense by practicing good hygiene to avoid spreading germs and seeking medical advice. Wash hands often, avoid sharing food or utensils, cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing, and wear a face mask.
However, if you're in an area that's considered at risk and you have symptoms that match those described, get immediate medical attention. If you or a family member develop any of these sympoms, keep them away from others and get medical help immediately.
Other Precautions
During an emergency, you may need to improvise to protect your nose, mouth, and any cuts in the skin. Use a t-shirt, towel, or handkerchief to cover your face. You should be able to breathe, but this will help to filter the air. Wash with soap and water, paying special attention to any cuts in your skin. Don't assume that antibiotics will help. Consult medical personnel before taking anything for your illness. Finally, use good common sense. Avoid crowds, eat well, and get plenty of rest.
-- Beth Adamo
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