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What is Bioterrorism?

A biological attack, or bioterrorism (BT), is the intentional release of viruses, bacteria, or other germs that can sicken or kill people. Bacillus anthracis, the bacteria that causes anthrax, is one of the most likely agents to be used in a biological attack.

Anthrax is one of the most likely agents to be used because:

  • Anthrax spores are easily found in nature, can be produced in a lab, and can last for a long time in the environment.
  • Anthrax makes a good weapon because it could be released quietly and without anyone knowing. The microscopic spores could be put into powders, sprays, food, and water. Because they are so small, you may not be able to see, smell, or taste them.
  • Anthrax has been used as a weapon before.

Bioterrorism differs from other methods of terrorism in that the effects are not always immediately apparent. An attack may be difficult to distinguish from a single case of an unusual infection or from a naturally occurring infectious disease outbreak. The first evidence of an attack may be in a hospital emergency room.

Bioterrorism agents

Agents that may be used as weapons of bioterrorism are classified by their threat level. These are known as Category A, B and C agents.

Category A Agents/Diseases

Category A agents are high-priority agents that include organisms that pose a risk to national security because they
can be easily disseminated or transmitted from person to person;
result in high mortality rates and have the potential for major public health impact;
might cause public panic and social disruption; and
require special action for public health preparedness.

Category B Agents/Diseases

Category B agents are the second highest priority agents and include those that
are moderately easy to disseminate;
result in moderate morbidity rates and low mortality rates; and
require specific enhancements of CDC’s diagnostic capacity and enhanced disease surveillance.

Category C Agents/Diseases

The third highest priority agents include emerging pathogens that could be engineered for mass dissemination in the future because of
ease of production and dissemination; and
potential for high morbidity and mortality rates and major health impact.

What is the role of the Bureau of Infectious Diseases?

The Ohio Department of Health (ODH) is committed to a 24/7 response for threats of bioterrorism reported by either local health departments in Ohio or by local, state or federal law enforcement. BID acts as a liaison between law enforcement, the ODH Laboratory and the local health department (LHD) where the threat occurs. BID staff will arrange for specimen testing at the ODH Laboratory in conjunction with law enforcement. If a true BT threat occurs, BID would keep the LHD informed so that messaging could be given to individuals that may be at risk.