Volume 96, Issue 93
Wednesday, March 26, 2003

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Bioterrorism fears increase

By Samantha Wright
Gazette Staff


Anthrax. Ricin. Small Pox. Could they be coming to a neighbourhood near you?

Since the tragic events of Sept. 11, there have been growing concerns regarding the threat of bioterrorism. These concerns have only been heightened by the international tension created by the American-led war on Iraq.

So, what exactly is bioterrorism?

"It is mainly defined as [the use of] micro-organisms, which include bacteria and viruses that can affect people through rapid deterioration of health, leading to death," said C. Yong Kang, a Western professor in microbiology and immunology.

Such deadly biological weapons are not hard to produce, and once created, can be produced in large quantities, he added.

"[Bioterrorism] is a genuine threat," said Grant McFadden, a Western professor in the department of microbiology and immunology and a scientist at the Robarts Research Institute.

Since Sept. 11, bioterrorism has surfaced in the United States, most recently through the use of anthrax, he said.

Biological weapons vary enormously between agents, and can range from airborne dispersal to food contamination, he added.

As an example, small pox "is a documented killer," McFadden said. "It has killed about a quarter of a billion people, more than all other [biological weapons] combined."

Although small pox is not easy to create, current fears stem from the [whereabouts] of the potentially large stock of the deadly agent produced by the Soviet military in the 1980s and early 1990s, he explained.

"[To battle the emerging threat], the United States has put billions of dollars into defense against biological weapons. For example, the National Institute of Health in the United States has received $1.75 billion in new [funding towards] researching bioterrorism agents," McFadden said. "In general, society [needs] to take a position of prudent caution and prepare for dangerous eventuation."

The current threat of a biological terrorist attack is hard to gage, said Donald Abelson, a Western professor in political science.

"Policy makers in Washington are concerned, and are giving some attention to this issue," Abelson explained. "The U.S. government has stepped up homeland security, taking whatever precautions are needed.

"Over the past few months, people have stocked up on essential supplies like water and duct tape, and secured rooms in their houses to protect [themselves] in case of a biological attack," he added.

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2002 THE GAZETTE