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Terrorism has emerged as the most serious threat to international security in the 21st century. Acts of terrorism have the potential to devastate the society as was demonstrated during the horrific events of September 11, 2011. Over the past decade, terrorists have shown great motivation to cause disruptions in society by carrying out attacks against the civilian population. Traditionally, terrorists have made use of conventional weapons to carry out their attacks. However, fears exist that they might get hold of biological weapons and successfully carry out a bioterrorist attack. In the event that a bioterrorism attack was to take place, health care providers would serve as the first line of defense for the public. Being close to the attacks puts the healthcare workers at increased risk of being infected by the bio agents used for the attack. This paper will set out to define bioterrorism and how it relates to the field of healthcare with emphasis on the role that nurses can play in dealing with bioterrorism attacks.
Terrorism is defined as violence carried out against civilian targets by non-state actors whose actions are prompted by political reasons. Bioterrorism is terrorism that makes use of biological agents such as viruses and bacteria as the weapons for perpetrating the attack on people (Jansen, Breeveld, Stijnis & Grobusch, 2014). For centuries, the impact of contagious disease and other biological weapons has been recognized by military leaders. In modern times, the international community recognizes that bioterrorism attacks could result in large-scale, life-threatening epidemics.
While the threat of bioterrorism is remote compared to conventional terrorism, there has been an observable trend in the rise of bioterrorism attacks over the decades. Greub and Grobusch (2014) report that while only 10 events were reported between 1900 and 1970, 170 events were recorded between 1970 and 1999. These points to an increase in the prevalence of bioterrorism in the world.
Types of Terrorism
Terrorists can use a wide array of biological weapons. Bacteria can be grown in a laboratory and disseminated to the population. One bacterial agent used by terrorists to create casualties and terror in the society is Anthrax. Jansen, et al. (2014) reveals that in 2001, terrorists sent packages with anthrax power in an attempt to create damage and terror in the US. Viral agents can also be used to perpetuate bioterrorism. Deadly viruses such as the Ebola virus and the Marburg virus can be produced in large quantities and dispersed to the population. These viruses have the potential to devastate the affected population. The Ebola virus causes the internal organ of victims to fail leading to death. Terrorists can also make use of pathogens to perpetrate biological attacks on civilian populations. Clover (2002) defines pathogens as any agent that can cause illness and disease to humans or animals. Another category of biological agent used by terrorists is toxins, which are essentially poisonous substances that have a harmful effect on the body.
Bioterrorism and Health care providers
The release of a biological agent would result in a major public health emergence. Since bioterrorism poses a threat to the health of individuals, healthcare providers are needed to help mitigate the impacts of the attacks and restore the health of affected people. Mondy, Cardenas and Avila (2003) reveals that bioterrorist attacks affect healthcare providers since individuals affected by the attack visit healthcare providers for health. In many cases, the individuals report unexplained or unusual illnesses to the healthcare providers serving them. These medical professionals are exposed to the agent even as they provide medical care. As such, dealing with bioterrorism attacks represents a real danger to healthcare professionals. Rebmann (2006) declares that healthcare workers should undertake protective measures to protect themselves and their families.
Rebmann (2006) notes that in the event of a bioterrorist attack on the general population, the healthcare industry would be required to take the most important steps in dealing with the situation. Rebmann (2006) declares that nurses are some of the healthcare providers who would play a significant role in reacting to a bioterrorism attack. For nurses to effectively deal with bioterrorism attacks, they have to be prepared to respond in a timely and appropriate manner to the attacks. By gaining bioterrorism management knowledge, nurses gain skills in identifying and reporting attacks. In addition to this, they are equipped to implement control measures to ensure that the attack does not spread.
Bioterrorism management knowledge also equips nurses with communication skills that ensure that they are able to effectively deal with the families of the victim of an attack (Rebmann, 2006). They are trained to provide trauma and bereavement counseling that will be of use in the event of an attack. Another attribute of preparedness is planning response strategies. Bioterrorism attacks can occur without notice and having a strategy to deal with the situation beforehand ensures that healthcare providers can engage in rapid response to the situation (Rebmann, 2006). By coming up with a strategy beforehand, nurses are able to assess the plan for faults and validate all proposed actions through empirical means.
How to Confront Bioterrorism
Considering the devastating effects that bioterrorism can cause to healthcare providers and the society in general, steps should be taken to confront and eliminate this threat. Key to dealing with bioterrorism is coming up with effective means of detecting biological agents once they are released. Jansen, et al (2014) admits that an additional danger posed by biological weapons is that they are not easily detectable. Detectors that are able to identify the agents can provide an early warning system. Clover (2002) declares that in modern high-rise buildings where air vents can be used to contaminate the entire building with a biological agent, aerosol detectors can detect weaponized bacterial or viral agents and sound alarms for people to evacuate the building thus preventing a catastrophe. Since most viral and biological agents are dispersed to the population through air in buildings, air-filtering systems can be used to thwart any attack. Clover (2002) reveals that it is possible to treat air before it enters a building thereby guarantying that the air is free from biological agents such as anthrax and tularemia.
People can be protected from the adverse effects of bioterrorism by being sheltered from the bio agents released in the attack. To deal with attacks, shelters can be created in public structures. The shelters would act as protected spaces that are free from biological agents. Clover (2002) reveals that the shelters are airtight places that have a clean air supply. In addition to this, these safe zones have communication systems and water that can sustain the people seeking refuge there until evacuation occurs.
An important concern posed by bioterrorism is that the means of acquiring biological weapons has become easier due to the proliferation of knowledge through the internet. Jansen, et al. (2014) observe that weapons that would in the past have required an expensive laboratory and a competent biologists can now be done in a garage by an individual who has acquired his skills from the internet. In addition to this, some biological agents are readily available to terrorists. For example, Ricin, which is a highly toxic agent, is easily accessible and this has made it a popular agent of choice for many terrorists (Jansen, et al., 2014). This ease of access increases the risk that a bioterrorist attack will be perpetrated at some point in future.
Another issue raised by bioterrorism is that the impact of the attack might mimic that of a natural incident. An attack can therefore occur without the authorities or civilians realizing it. Toxins dispersed into food might be mistaken for an accidental food-poisoning outbreak making it possible for the bioterrorists to avoid apprehension since the authorities will not be looking for them (Jansen, et al., 2014). Maddox (2001) admits that an important danger presented by bioterrorism is that attacks might be hard to diagnose or notice following an initial attack. This can make them difficult and time consuming to detect making their impact on the population far-reaching.
Bioterrorism has emerged as a probable threat to the global community in the 21st century. This paper set out to define bioterrorism and illustrate the dangers it poses to healthcare and measures that can be taken to confront and eliminate it. It described bioterrorism as terrorism that makes use of biological agents and highlighted the common types of bio agents used to perpetrate attacks. The paper has highlighted the dangers that healthcare workers face from bioterrorist attacks. It they outlined how the workers can protect themselves from the dangers and provide useful services to the community facing an attack.
Clover, N.J. (2002). Countering chemical and biological terrorism. Civil Engineering, 72(5), 62-68.
Greub, G., & Grobusch, M.P. (2014). Bioterrorism: myth or reality? Clinical Microbiology and Infection, 20(6), 485-487.
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Jansen, H.J., Breeveld, F.J., Stijnis, C., & Grobusch, M.P. (2014) Biological warfare, bioterrorism, and biocrime. Clin Microbiol Infect, 20(6), 488–496
Maddox, P.J. (2001). Bioterrorism: A renewed public health threat. MEDSURG Nursing, 10(6), 333-338.
Mondy, C., Cardenas, D., & Avila, M. (2003). The Role of an Advanced Practice Public Health Nurse in Bioterrorism Preparedness. Public Health Nursing, 20(6), 422-432.
Rebmann, T. (2006). Defining bioterrorism preparedness for nurses: concept analysis. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 54(5), 623-632.