The World Health Organization (WHO) defines a pandemic as a worldwide disease outbreak that is mainly characterized by high infection levels, a perceived lack of immunity against the disease-causing agent, and a high rate of spread and survival among human populations (Chiras, 2010). In the light of this definition, examples of pandemics would include Ebola, Swine Flu, Spanish Flu, Avian Influenza, HIV/AIDS, and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). The term biothreat, on its part, is markedly used in bioterrorism circles to denote a real or perceived threat of the use of biological or chemical weapons on human populations using such agents as Salmonella enteric and Bacillus anthracis (Pallen, 2007).
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Government agencies across the world have developed comprehensive measures and policies aimed at dealing with biothreats and pandemic outbreaks. By virtue of the fact that biothreats and bioterrorism occur due to the prevalence of intentionally induced agents, and with the realization that many biothreat/bioterrorism attacks may be highly infectious (Clarke et al, 2008), it is important to respond swiftly by ensuring the availability of an adequate number of workers to deal with the situation, facilitating good communication networks between workers in the central offices and those in the field, obtaining expert advice on the type and scope of the introduced agent, removing any legal barriers that may impede agent containment, ensuring adequate disease reporting and surveillance mechanisms, and introducing restrictive measures, isolation and quarantine to limit spread (Hoffman, 2003).
The world has indeed learned a lot from the SARS outbreak and the anthrax attacks. Some of the lessons that cannot escape mention include the need to develop resources that could be swiftly mobilized in the event of an outbreak; need to undertake education and awareness programs to equip human populations on how to act in the event of an outbreak; need to develop rapid disease reporting and surveillance mechanisms, and; the need to maintain acceptable health and hygiene standards to guard against pandemics (Clarke et al, 2008). Other lessons include: recapitalizing public and private health infrastructure to effectively deal with arising outbreaks; expanding local and regional surge capabilities for mass-casualty care in the event of an outbreak, and; establishing comprehensive and well-equipped research institutions to deal with issues of pathogen analysis (Heyman, 2002).
Governments and other interested agencies must be in a position to avail resources to deal with pandemics such as the Avian Flu and SARS, and bioterrorist attacks such as the 2001 Anthrax attacks on the United States. Among the resources needed to respond to both incidences, it is clear that physicians, epidemiologists, nurses, public health officials and other medical practitioners are needed to investigate incidences of the outbreak, establish or expand disease reporting and surveillance, confirm additional incidences, investigate the epicenter of the attacks, and recommend treatment solutions (Heyman, 2002). Preventive and curative medicines are also needed as a core resource. In addition, comprehensive and well-equipped medical research institutes are needed for purpose of analyzing the samples taken from the field to illuminate proper treatment protocols. Lastly, laboratory resources and diagnostic capacities are needed as core resources to effectively contain the incidences. It is imperative to note that law enforcement agencies, including the police, FBI agents, and other government officials, are required in the event of a bioterrorist attack principally because of the fact that such attacks, as opposed to pandemics, are criminal in nature, thus the need to undertake criminal investigations (Heyman, 2002).
Chiras, D.D. (2010). Human biology. Sudbury, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning Clarke, T.L., Rotarius, T., Liberman, A., Cattani, J., Nievas, K., Sumner, J., & Palaniappan, R. (2008). Responding to a bioterrorism attack — one scenario: Part 1. Health Care Management, 27(3), 192-211
Heyman, D. (2002). Lessons from the anthrax attacks: Implications for U.S. bioterrorism preparedness. Web.
Hoffman, R.E. (2003). Preparing for a bioterrorist attack: Legal and administrative strategies. Emerging Infectious Diseases, 9(2). Web.
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Pallen, M.J. (2007). Bacterial pathogenomics. Washington, DC: American Society of Microbiology