And Then You Die . . . Themes
The dangers of terrorism come in many forms. Random acts of violence have become a way of life in many places around the world. America has had a number of terrorist attacks since the late 1970s—some from groups from other countries, some from within. Random violence is always met with feelings of outrage and sympathy from the general public. The government entities responsible for the safety of the nation do all they can to minimize these attacks, recognizing that one form the attack might take is biological. Called bioterrorism, the use of a disease-producing virus or germ is well within the spectrum of terrorist acts.
Control of biological warfare, one form of which has become bioterrorism, has been studied and discussed among many nations since the 1960s. A formal treaty was signed in 1972, prohibiting the production of biological weapons of mass destruction. Concern has been ongoing since that time, with a number of studies documenting the opinions of many experts and others about the readiness of the United States to deal with such a crisis.
The Journal of Environmental Health reports that in May 2000, an exercise called Top Off was conducted in the Denver area to measure the reaction of various government agencies to the threat of a bioterrorist attack on a public event. Supposedly, an airborne virus causing flu-like or pneumonia symptoms is released, with actors reporting to various hospital emergency rooms. The response time of government bodies who would deal with such an event were evaluated, "including communication among agencies, response time, crowd and riot control, efficiency, organization, emergency preparedness and law enforcement." An analysis of the data collected is not yet available, but the study underlines concern for the problem. The Journal of the American Medical Association, JAMA, reports that Congress has given "a green light to the National Guard's first 10 Civil Support Teams. All are staffed, trained, and equipped. They should be on call sometime this summer  to help local authorities respond to possible terrorist use of weapons of mass destruction." Biological weapons fall under this category.
Ali S. Kahn, Stephen Morse, and Scott Lillibridge, writing for The Lancet, report that the Center for Disease Control is initiating a number of programs to enhance the preparedness of the United States to deal with an attack of this nature. Part of the plan is to stockpile enough antibiotics to treat ten million people for an outbreak of anthrax and sufficient vaccine to immunize one fourth of the population against smallpox. Training personnel at all levels of the public health system to deal with specific agents is in progress. The Center has made a list, called the Critical Agents List, which will help if it becomes necessary to identify a suspected agent.
In spite of the preparation being undertaken by various government agencies, some feel the nation is not prepared. In Family Practice News, Michael T. Osterholm raises questions about how the medical community would cope with thousands of people flooding into hospitals and doctors' offices, some sick and some afraid they are sick. His concern is not only for an epidemic outbreak caused by a terrorist attack, but also for an outbreak of other...
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