Effects Of A Biological Attack
And The Actions You Can Take
The number of terror attacks we are facing is on the increase. Whilst we normally associate terror attacks with threats such as shootings, bombings, stabbings and vehicle attacks. We should not rule out the possibility that a biological attack could become a reality in our lifetime.
Knowing the effects and actions that you can take if a biological attack happens is an important part of being prepared. This article talks about the types of biological agents that could be used as a biological weapon and their effects. It will also offer suggestions on the actions you can take if such an attack occurs.
What Exactly Is A Biological Attack?
A biological attack involves the use of harmful viruses, bacteria, fungi or other biological agents as a biological weapon. Such a weapon is intentionally released with the intent to cause death, illness, fear, and economic damage. It is thought that at least 17 nations now have active offensive biological weapons programs.
Types Of Biological Agents
Here is a list of some biological agents that could be used as a biological weapon:
Anthrax is an infection caused by a bacteria called Bacillus anthracis. Naturally occurring anthrax spores live in the soil throughout Africa, Asia, and the United Kingdom. In the United States, it can be found in locations such as Texas, Oklahoma, and the Mississippi Valley.
There are three types of anthrax infections:
- Cutaneous anthrax.
- Gastrointestinal anthrax.
- Inhalation anthrax which is the most deadly type.
People can become infected through skin contact, by drinking contaminated water, eating contaminated meat, or by inhaling the bacteria or spores.
Symptoms will usually occur within seven days of infection. Cutaneous anthrax could result in lesions, black ulcers, headaches, muscle aches, fever, and vomiting. Symptoms of gastrointestinal anthrax include loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, and fever. Followed by abdominal pain, vomiting of blood and severe diarrhea. Initial symptoms of inhalation anthrax may resemble the common cold or flu such as fever, coughing and chest pains. After several days, the symptoms may progress to severe breathing problems and shock.
Botulism poses a major biological weapon threat because of its effectiveness and lethality. It’s both easy to produce and to transport. Although no instances of waterborne botulism have ever been reported. The effectiveness of the toxin has led to speculation that it could be used to contaminate a municipal water supply.
Botulism is a muscle-paralyzing disease caused by a nerve toxin produced by a bacterium called Clostridium botulinum. Botulinum toxin in solution is colorless, odorless and, as far as is known, tasteless. Spores of Clostridium botulinum are found in the soil worldwide.
There are three main types of botulism:
Infant botulism occurs when living bacteria or the spores are ingested by an infant. They then become planted in the infant’s gastrointestinal tract.
Food-borne botulism usually occurs when a person eats food that has not been preserved or canned correctly. Outbreaks from commercial products and foods prepared in restaurants have also occurred.
Wound botulism is caused by the growth of living botulism bacteria in a wound. With an ongoing secretion of toxin that causes the paralytic illness. In the United States, this syndrome is almost exclusively seen in injecting drug users.
Symptoms may include difficulty swallowing, dry mouth, blurred or double vision, drooping eyelids, slurred speech, and muscle weakness. In the case of muscle weakness it starts at the shoulders, then moves to the upper arms, lower arms, thighs, calves, and so on.
Food-borne botulism, symptoms begin from six hours to two weeks after eating toxin-containing food. In most cases, the delay is about 12 to 36 hours. Infants with botulism appear lethargic, feed poorly, are constipated and have a weak cry and muscle tone.
Plague is an infectious disease of humans and animals and is caused by a bacterium called Yersinia pestis.
There are three types of the plague:
Bubonic plague is the most common form of plague. Occurring when an infected flea bites a person or if materials contaminated with the bacteria enter through a break in a person’s skin. This form of plague does not spread from person to person.
Septicemic plague happens once the bacteria multiply in the blood. When it occurs alone, it is caused in the same way as bubonic plague. It can occur as a result of a complication of the pneumonic or bubonic plague.
Pneumonic plague occurs when the bacteria infect the lungs. Transmission can take place if someone breathes in aerosolized bacteria or breathes in the respiratory droplets of a person or animal with the disease.
The onset of bubonic plague is usually within two to six days after a person is exposed. Symptoms include muscular pain, high fever, chills, headaches. It also causes swelling of lymph glands called buboes in the armpits, neck, groin and other areas. Septicemic plague symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, fever, low blood pressure, chills, abdominal pain, shock and bleeding into the skin and other organs.
Ricin is a naturally occurring substance found in the castor plant. The plant is grown agriculturally worldwide and grows in the wild in parts of the United States. It can be produced easily and cheaply and if inhaled, ingested or injected it is an effective toxin.
Ricin could be used to contaminate food or water supplies. Once ingested it enters cells and prevents them from making needed proteins, leading to organ and system failure.
Symptoms can appear in less than an hour or they may not appear for several days after exposure. If Inhaled or injected within 24 hours it can cause respiratory problems, chest pain weakness, fever, cough, cyanosis and pulmonary edema. Severe respiratory distress and death may occur in 36 to 72 hours.
Ingested ricin may cause nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, internal bleeding, liver and kidney failure, and gastroenteritis. When injected ricin may cause tissue damage near the injection site as well as multiple organ failures. Ricin can also affect the central nervous system, causing seizures.
Smallpox was first used as a biological weapon during the French and Indian Wars. When British soldiers distributed blankets that had been used by smallpox patients to start outbreaks among American Indians. Epidemics followed that killed more than 50 percent of many affected tribes.
Smallpox is a deadly disease caused by a virus known as variola. The virus can cause red lesions and pustules on the skin. Its spread most often by an infected person releasing saliva droplets from their mouth into the air. Those droplets are then inhaled by a susceptible person in close contact with the ill person.
People are most infectious to others during the first week of the illness. However, the disease can still be transmitted to others through scabs that have separated from the skin.
Outbreaks involve either variola minor or the more deadly variola major. Those suffering from variola major become bedridden during the eruption of the rash and remain so throughout the illness. The spread of infection is limited to close contacts.
In comparison, variola minor can be so mild that people can remain active during the infectious phase of their illness. Therefore the virus can spread far more widely.
The incubation period of smallpox is seven to seventeen days following exposure. Symptoms include high fever, fatigue, headaches, and backaches. Followed by a rash with lesions that develop within two to three days on mostly the face, arms and legs. These lesions are round, tense and deeply embedded in the skin. They fill with pus and begin to crust early in the second week of the rash.
Tularemia is caused by the bacterium Francisella tularensis also known as ”Deer’s Fly Fever” and”Rabbit Fever”. If used as a biological weapon, the bacteria would most likely be made airborne for exposure by inhalation. If inhaled tularemia would normally cause severe respiratory illness, including life-threatening pneumonia and systemic infection if not treated.
It is spread to humans via ticks and infected animal tissue and in some cases from contaminated food and water. Tularemia bacteria are highly infectious but are not spread from person to person contact.
The incubation period for tularemia is normally between three to five days, with symptoms occurring from one to 14 days. Tularemia can cause skin ulcers, swollen and painful lymph glands, inflamed eyes, sore throat, oral ulcers, or pneumonia.
Once inhaled symptoms can include a dry cough, fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, joint pain and progressive weakness. Persons with pneumonia can develop chest pain, difficulty breathing, bloody sputum, and respiratory failure.
Viral Hemorrhagic Fever (VHF)
Some forms of hemorrhagic fever viruses only cause mild illnesses, however many of these viruses cause, life-threatening disease. Viruses that cause hemorrhagic fever such as Ebola, Marburg, Lassa, and Crimean-Congoonce can spread from one person to another. This can occur directly, through close contact with infected people or their body fluids. VHF can also spread through contact with objects that are contaminated with infected body fluids. For example, contaminated syringes and needles.
First signs and symptoms often include fatigue, dizziness, fever, muscle aches, loss of strength, and exhaustion. Symptoms of severe VHF often include bleeding from under the skin, internal organs, or from orifices. Such as the eyes mouth and ears. People who are severely ill could also show signs of shock, nervous system malfunction, delirium, coma, and seizures.
Effects Of A Biological Attack
There are a number of ways in which you can be affected by these biological agents. Some can enter your body through a cut in the skin whilst others can be inhaled or digested.
It’s not always obvious that a biological attack is taking place. In most cases, the first you will hear about a biological attack is through television, radio, and social media announcements.
Biological agents have no odor or color and can be in either liquid or powder form. Due to the different types of biological agent that can be released in a biological attack. There are many possible effects that an attack could have and these are often delayed for days before symptoms appear.
For example, biological agents, such as anthrax or plague normally take two to five days until symptoms first start to appear. Whereas biological agents like botulism can occur in less than a day.
Although it is possible to become ill by means of food or water contamination or absorption through the skin. In most cases, inhalation of biological agents is the most likely form of an attack that is expected.
There are however some signs of a biological attack that you can keep an eye out for:
- Unexplained dead or dying animals in the area.
- Unusual vapors or droplets of oily film on surfaces.
- Suspicious behavior in areas where large numbers of people gather like stadiums or subways.
- Unusual low forming clouds or fog.
- Unusual dust clouds.
- Strange mists.
- People around you starting to show sudden signs of breathing difficulties, convulsions or nausea.
- Suspicious Packages – Avoid opening them and report them.
Stay alert for attack warning signs because early detection of a biological attack will increase your chances of survival.
Actions To Take In The Event Of A Biological Attack
In case of suspected exposure to biological agents, no matter what the origin. You should seek medical help as soon as possible, even if symptoms don’t immediately appear.
Irrespective of the type of biological agent used. Unless you are properly equipped with a proper breathing device and protective clothing. Evacuation from the area of biological attack is always advisable.
If you are unable to evacuate immediately get inside if you are outside. Close all windows and doors and shut off any heating and air conditioning systems to prevent circulation of air.
If you are notified that a biological attack has occurred or could potentially occur. You should continue to listen carefully to all further updates paying particular attention to information about the following:
- The type of attack confirmed or suspected.
- Evacuation Information.
- How to receive emergency medical treatment if you become unwell.
- The signs and symptoms of the disease.
- If vaccines are available who and where you should get them.
Protect Your Breathing Airways
The most important action you should take in the event of a biological attack is to protect your breathing airways. The best way to do this is to evacuate the area. Get as far away as you can from the source of the biological attack. Ideally protecting your breathing airways as you evacuate by wearing a gas mask.
If you don’t have a gas mask you could cover your mouth and nose with a surgical mask or handkerchief.
If these are not available you can improvise by using a clean cloth soaked in a solution of one tablespoon of baking soda with one cup of water. Another suggestion would be to use an item of clothing such as a coat or shirt. Whilst these won’t offer full protection of your airways some protection is better than nothing at all.
Decontamination procedures are generally the same no matter what the biological agent is. If available wear rubber gloves to protect you from contamination. If a biological agent makes contact with your skin. Wash it off immediately using large amounts of warm soapy water or a diluted bleach solution. Use one part bleach to ten parts water. Doing this will greatly reduce the possibility of absorbing an agent through the skin.
If water is not available, talcum powder or flour is also an excellent means of decontamination of liquid agents. Sprinkle the flour or powder liberally over the affected skin area then wait 30 seconds. The powder absorbs the biological agent so it needs to be brushed off thoroughly. So remember to brush off the powder with a rag or gauze pad after 30 seconds.
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