Risks and realities of a bioterror attack

The World
The World

JT says someone who wanted to produce anthrax as a weapon would have to overcome several technical hurdles: they would have to first obtain a virulent strain of the organism. (How available is something like that?) Only some strains of anthrax are deadly, so the perpetrator would have to obtain the right strain and there is some evidence that this is not easy to do. (So say somebody did get a hold of a deadly strain, what would they do next?) They would have to produce it in quantity. They would then induce the bacteria to a form of spores, a condensed form of the bacterium which is like tiny seeds with a tough outer coating which protects them from the elements and can persist in soil for decades. When given water, they can return to a deadly state. So the challenge is to produce the bacterium and then process it into a dry powder which can be delivered as a weapon. (And how deadly is it?) In this case the spores were produced as an extremely refined powder, containing billions of individual spores per milligram. This is very difficult to do in a reliable manner and some people have raised questions about whether one person has the skills to do all this work. (How worried are you about something like this happening again?) Because an attack like this does necessitate a high level of scientific expertise, I’m not as worried about groups hiding out in caves in Afghanistan as I am about skilled microbiologists who might be devoted to developing a bio-terrorism weapon. There has been a huge amount of bio-terrorism activity since the anthrax attacks. Although security has improved, there are new concerns and in any large population there will be a number of people who might be motivated to use their connection to dangerous pathogens to commit acts of terrorism. So I am troubled by the rapid expansion of the bio-defense enterprise without proper government oversight.

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