The world today is more dangerous than ever before. It seems as though every time you look at the news, you see the aftermath of another senseless tragedy. With terrorism becoming more and more commonplace, you’ve probably heard phrases such as biological agents and wondered how you could possibly protect yourself. In this article, we will discuss what biological agents are, and then share ways that you can protect yourself from becoming infected by a biological agent.
What Are Biological Agents?
There are many names for biological agents, such as bio-agents, biological threat agents, biological weapons, and biological warfare agents. Whatever you want to call them, they are very dangerous weapons that can cause serious illnesses or even death to those who are infected. Biological agents come in many forms, but most often they are in the form of a parasite, fungus, or virus that can be used as a weapon during an act of war or terrorism. A terrorist attack using biological agents as a weapon is known as bioterrorism.
How Do Biological Agents Work?
In an act of bioterrorism, viruses are intentionally released in order to cause illness, incapacitation, or even death to those who are exposed. Exposure to biological agents can happen in a number of ways, including physical contact, droplet infection, and aerosol infection. Usually, biological agents are selected based on their ability to be mass circulated.
Biological agents are put into three different categories which are ranked by the severity of their effects on individuals and on society as a whole:
Biological agents in Category A are considered to be of high priority because of their extremely dangerous nature. Biological agents in this category have the potential to lead to serious illness, incapacitation, or even death. Worst of all, these biological agents pose a serious risk to national security because of how easily and quickly they can be transmitted or passed from person to person.
Category A diseases and viruses include:
Tularemia is an incapacitating infectious disease that usually begins with a bite from a bloodsucking pest like a tick or a deer fly, or by closely interacting with an animal who has been infected. While it can’t be passed from person to person, this high-risk disease can be obtained by drinking contaminated water or inhaling contaminated dust. The symptoms of tularemia include loss of appetite, high fever, and lethargy, and in some cases, can lead to death. With proper treatment and medical care, however, the risk of death is relatively low.
Anthrax is a non-contagious infectious disease with a high mortality rate. The symptoms show up as early as one day after infection or as late as two months after infection. Anthrax has been known to occur in four different forms: skin, lungs, intestinal, and injection.
The skin form usually begins with a small blister that turns into an ulcer with a black center over time. The inhalation form usually comes with symptoms such as feeling feverish and having shortness of breath. The intestinal form usually causes painful gastrointestinal issues, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Finally, the injection form typically results in a fever and swelling and an abscess at the injection site. Depending on the form, anthrax has a 20%-80% mortality rate without treatment. Even with treatment, the respiratory and intestinal forms of anthrax still carry an extremely high risk of death.
Smallpox is a highly contagious virus that was eradicated worldwide in the 1970s. However, some samples still exist in laboratories in a few different countries. Smallpox is especially dangerous as a biological agent because it was eradicated so long ago that many people are not protected against it by means of vaccines anymore. Since it is highly contagious, it could be transferred from person to person easily. Smallpox can also be transmitted through the atmosphere.
Botulinum toxin is generally considered to be safe in most clinical settings, however, it is one of the most lethal toxins out there when used in higher doses. Interestingly enough, botulinum toxin has a wide range of uses and can be found in certain medicines and cosmetics. If used as a biological agent, it would pose a serious risk due to its high level of toxicity.
The bubonic plague tends to be spread via bites from infected fleas. In addition, the bubonic plague can also be transmitted from the fluids of a dead animal that was infected with this plague. The bubonic plague is typically associated with small animals such as rodents. As a biological agent, this is very dangerous because it can kill very quickly. Without treatment, roughly 30-90% of people who get the bubonic plague will die as a result, typically within the first ten days after exposure.
Viral Hemorrhagic Fevers
This is somewhat of a catch-all category since viral hemorrhagic fevers range from mild illnesses to extremely serious and life-threatening illnesses such as the Ebola virus. However, all viral hemorrhagic fevers result in unpleasant symptoms such as fever and bleeding which can become extremely dangerous if the fever worsens or symptoms of shock begin to occur. If used as a biological agent, viral hemorrhagic fevers could be extremely dangerous, as there is no known cure for them and vaccines are still in development and are not yet accessible to the general public.
Category B agents are less of a concern than Category A agents and include epidemics such as water supply threats and food safety threats.
Category C biological agents are diseases, viruses, and infections that are already relatively common but have the potential to be purposely abused during biological warfare such as the H1N1 virus and HIV or AIDS.
8 Ways to Protect Yourself from Biological Agents
Get Your Yearly Flu Shot
Of course, getting your flu shot won’t protect you from every form of the flu, but it can protect you from the most common flu virus strains that are going around during any given year. Getting your flu shot can help you fight off a virus more efficiently if you do happen to get infected. This is not something to take lightly in the event of an act of bioterrorism.
Get a Pneumonia Vaccine
This is especially recommended for those with respiratory problems such as asthma, those with diabetes, the elderly, and anyone with an inhibited ability to fight off infection. Getting a pneumonia vaccine might be the difference between life or death if exposed to a biological agent.
Wash Your Hands Often
Enter your text here...It sounds obvious, but it’s important to keep your hands clean, especially before touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. Make sure to wash your hands after every time you use the restroom, pet an animal, or touch something that might not be clean. Make sure to properly wash your hands with soap for at least 15-20 seconds.
Carry Hand Sanitizer with You
Since you might not always be able to access soap and water, carrying hand sanitizer and using it often can help prevent the spread of germs, especially if you use it before you eat or touch your face.
Don’t Touch Dead Animals
It might sound obvious to avoid touching a dead animal, but some people have jobs that require them to move dead animals for one reason or another. To properly protect yourself, make sure to use heavy-duty gloves to prevent being directly exposed to the bodily fluids of the animal.
Properly Dispose of All Bio-Hazards
Make sure that any potentially contaminated material such as gloves, masks, tissues, hypodermic needles, or anything contaminated by bodily fluids are disposed of properly. Many locations have approved bio-hazard receptacles for proper bio-hazard disposal, but if that isn’t an option, a sealed and clearly marked bag is a decent alternative.
Although the news can be depressing, it’s important to be aware of what’s going on out there. Keep your eyes and ears open for news of possible bioterrorism. If you hear reports of an outbreak on the other side of the world, don’t assume that you are safe. Air travel has made it easier than ever for infections and viruses to spread.
Seek Medical Attention Immediately
If you have symptoms that mimic that of a dangerous disease or virus, don’t take any chances. Some viruses can kill their victims in as little as ten days after exposure. If you’re concerned about your symptoms or those of a loved one, seek medical attention immediately, especially if there is an outbreak already occurring. You would much rather be safe than sorry when it comes to serious diseases and viruses.
lt can be scary to think of terrorism and the potential of biological agents affecting you and your loved ones, but it’s important to prepare for the possibility of it happening. The best thing that you can do to avoid becoming infected by a potentially deadly virus is to use common sense and err on the side of caution and not take any unnecessary risks.