The page below is a sample from the LabCE course Preliminary Identification of the Primary Select Agents of Bioterrorism. Access the complete course and earn ASCLS P.A.C.E.-approved continuing education credits by subscribing online.

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Why Certain Agents are Used as Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

There are many reasons why certain agents would be selected for use in bioterrorist attacks, including the:

  • Ease of availability: Biological pathogens can be obtained from nature, hospital laboratories, and university research facilities.
  • Difficulty to detect: Small quantities can have potentially deadly or incapacitating effects on a susceptible population.
  • Covert use of the agent: Can be spread throughout large areas by natural convection, air, or water currents.
  • Ease in disseminating: Pathogens can be spread through ventilation systems in buildings. Transportation facilities could become part of the dissemination system by carrying biological agents far from their initial source.
  • Psychological impact: Biological WMD’s could possibly have a psychological impact that will go far beyond their actual effect. The very thought of exposure to a biological agent may possibly cause many people to panic.
  • Ability to tie up resources: Some biological agents can be a hazard for lengthy periods. The use of these agents may require tedious, time-consuming, resource-intensive decontamination and monitoring of facilities before they can be returned to service.
  • Difficulty to defend against attack: It is very difficult for civilian government agencies to prepare for biological terrorist incidents. While most civilian agencies have some kind of hazardous material or HAZMAT response teams; in the event of a biological terrorist incident, these teams are likely to be challenged beyond their capability in terms of human resources, and equipment.