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Bioterrorism is the intentional release of biological agents to injure or kill civilians, in particular to achieve political goals and objectives. Biological warfare has been practiced in one form or another for at least 2000 years. The Romans, the Tartars, and others used the blankets of the dead and even the dead bodies to help spread a given disease among their enemies. Native Americans, when the first Europeans came to the New World, as they had no experience of, or resistance to, smallpox, measles, plague, typhoid fever, and influenza, died in large numbers. The first work on the creation of weapons using biological agents was done by the Japanese army during World War II, when prisoners of war were used in biological agent research.

Today there are various groups of people as well as nations who may want to create weapons that can spread various diseases rapidly to an unsuspecting population. Some have attempted to alter biological agents in order to increase the level of disease that will occur and/or find a rapid means of dispersal of the microorganisms. Also, there are numerous nations that either have or have had biological weapons, which may be spread through air, water, or food. Terrorists are constantly looking for a way to possess and utilize these agents.

There are three primary categories of priority pathogens that can cause disease and death in people, either through traditional spreading of disease or by creating weapons with dangerous organisms. They are:

  • • Category A Priority Pathogens, including those that cause botulism, plague, smallpox, tularemia, viral hemorrhagic fevers, etc., create the highest risk to national security and public health by being easily disseminated and transmitted from person to person, resulting in panic and high levels of death.
  • • Category B Priority Pathogens, including those that cause Q fever, brucellosis, typhus fever, food and waterborne diseases, encephalitis, etc., create the second highest risk to national security and public health by being moderately easy to disseminate, resulting in moderate levels of disease and low levels of death.
  • • Category C Priority Pathogens, including those that cause tick-borne hemorrhagic fevers, yellow fever, rabies, etc., create the third highest priority, but are of great concern because they are readily available, easily produced, and can become emerging pathogens by re-engineering the organism for mass dissemination. (See endnote 73.)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Emergency Preparedness, and Response has developed a series of fact sheets for a variety of microorganisms that may possibly be used as bioweapons. The fact sheets discuss the microorganism, people at risk, the organism used in bioterrorism, and various resources. (See endnote 74.)

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