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Bioterrorism: An Increasing Threat to India

Dr Amit Singh
Dr Amit Singh

Bioterrorism is a criminal act against civilian using pathogenic microorganisms or toxins derived from microorganisms. It is the threat of international introduction of a microbial pathogen that can affect animal and human health. Biological warfare is defined as the use of pathogenic microbes to harm or kill human population, food or livestock, less developed nations can produce “biological weapon” that are as lethal as “nuclear weapons”. Countries that are involved in the development of biological weapons include- Iraq, Iran, Israel, North Korea, China, Libya, Syria and Taiwan. A biological attack is the intentional release of a pathogen (disease causing agent) or biotoxin (poisonous substance produced by a living organism) against humans, plants, or animals. An attack against people could be used to cause illness, death, fear, societal disruption, and economic damage. An attack on agricultural plants and animals would primarily cause economic damage, loss of confidence in the food supply, and possible loss of life. It is useful to distinguish between two kinds of biological agents:  

  • Transmissible agents that spread from person to person (e.g., Smallpox, Ebola) or animal to animal (e.g., Foot and Mouth Disease) 

  • Agents that may cause adverse effects in exposed individuals but that do not make those individuals contagious to others (e.g., Anthrax, Botulinum toxin)

Biological Warfare Agents: 

Bacteria: Bacillus anthracis, Yersinia pestis, Francisella tularensis, Salmonella typhimurium, Brusella suis, Coxiella burnetti, Vibrio cholera and Shigella species.  

Viruses: Smallpox (Variola major virus), Viral Hemorrhagic Fevers (Ebola) and Yellow Fever virus 

Biotoxins: Botulism (Clostridium Botulinum toxin), Ricin and Staphylococcal Enterotoxin B 

Anti crop agents: Rice blast, Rye stem rust and Wheat stem rust 

Historical Perspective on Biological Attack:  

  • In 2001, the Anthrax attacked through the U.S. mail and infected 11 people with inhalational anthrax, of which five died. 

  • In the 1990s, the cult Aum Shinrikyo failed in attempts to release anthrax and botulinum toxin in Tokyo but did succeed in a chemical attack with Sarin nerve agent. 

  • In 1984, the cult followers of Baghwan Shree Rajneesh sickened 751 people in Oregon by placing Salmonella bacteria in salad bars in 10 restaurants to keep people from voting in an election. 

  • In World War II, Unit 731 in Japanese-occupied Manchuria dropped plague-infected fleas in China, allegedly resulting in more than 50,000 deaths. 

  • In World War I, German agents successfully infected Allied livestock with Anthrax and Glanders. 

 How Biological Agents Could Be Disseminated?  

  • Aerosol dissemination is the dispersal of an agent in air from sprayers or other devices.

  • Food or water especially ready-to-eat food (vegetables, salad bars) could be intentionally contaminated with pathogens or toxins. The water supply is less vulnerable because dilution, filtration, and the addition of chlorine can kill most disease-causing organisms.  

  • Human carriers could spread transmissible agents by coughing, through body fluids, or by contaminating surfaces. 

  • Infected animals can cause people to become ill through contact with the animals or contaminated animal products. 

  • Insects naturally spread some agents such as plague bacteria (vector borne illnesses) and potentially could be used in an attack. 

  • An agricultural attack: A point introductionof an infected plant or animal or its fluids could spread disease through the rest of the crop or livestock. Agricultural biothreat agents (e.g., Foot and Mouth Disease, Avian Influenza, Soy Bean Rust and Karnal Bunt of Wheat) do not have to be aerosolized to be effectively disseminated. 

What should people do to protect themselves?  

  • Practically during a declared biological emergency people in the group or area that authorities have linked to exposure who have symptoms that match those described should seek emergency medical attention. 

  • We should practice good hygiene and cleanliness to avoid spreading germs. 

  • People who are potentially exposed they should Follow instructions of health care providers and other public health officials. 

  • If the disease is contagious, persons exposed may be quarantined.

  • If people become aware of a suspicious substance nearby, they should quickly get away and cover their mouths and noses with layers of fabric that can filter the air but still allow breathing. 

  • People should Wash their hands with soap and water.

  • People should contact authorities and watch television, listen to the radio and check the Internet for official news and information including the signs and symptoms of the disease, if medications or vaccinations are being distributed, and where to seek medical attention if they become sick.  

  • Seek emergency medical attention if they become sick. 

Conclusion: 

Biological agents are a threat to human, livestock and crop health as well as to the Indian economy and their understanding must be considerably improved. Political awareness and public participation are essential for threat mitigation. The preparedness against biological attacks will also prepare our population against natural occurrence of diseases, thus transforming India into a resilient society. As seeing the present scenario (COVID-19), there is no doubt that India will not only take strong decision to mitigate any bioattack but also would always be prepared for outside terrorism.  

Amit Singh Vishen 

Guest Faculty, Department of Veterinary Anatomy & Histology 

(ANDUAT), Ayodhya – 224229, UP 

Email ID: amitvishen56@gmail.com 

Mobile No: 8299149215 

Amit Singh Vishen1, K.N. Singh2, Mukesh Kumar3, Rakesh Kumar Gupta4 and Hemant Kumar5

1.(Guest Faculty, Department of Veterinary Anatomy, Acharya Narendra Dev University of Agriculture & Technology, Ayodhya), Pin code-224229  

2.(Asst. Professor, Department of Veterinary Anatomy, Acharya Narendra Dev University of Agriculture & Technology, Ayodhya), Pin code-224229 

3.(Guest Faculty, Department of Veterinary Pathology, Acharya Narendra Dev University of Agriculture & Technology, Ayodhya), Pin code-224229 

4.(Asst. Professor, Department of Veterinary Surgery and Radiology, MJFCVAS, Chomu, Jaipur), Pin code-303702 

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