Recognizing a Biological Attack


Recognizing a covert attack, and verifying the causative agent, will require sound epidemiological practice. It is likely that the first clues will be gathered by individual care providers or emergency rooms. It is also possible that first notification could come from less expected sources, like a pharmacist, laboratory tech or veterinarian, who notices something unusual in the frequency or character of a disease process.

If lives are to be saved, early recognition and treatment of biological warfare diseases is mandatory . Anthrax, botulism, plague and small pox can be prevented if patients are promptly treated with proper antibiotics, antisera, and/or vaccination immediately following exposure. Conversely, these diseases may be fatal if treatment is delayed until the classic symptoms develop.

Weaponized biologic agents may present with nonspecific clinical features that are difficult to differentiate from a nonfatal disease, like the common flu. The incubation period for these diseases may be from days to weeks.

The fact that more than one agent can be dispersed can further complicate diagnosis. Eventually, some characteristic will emerge that will set the event apart from the common disease process. Unfortunately, time is of the essence.

The following list of epidemiological clues may indicate a bioterror attack and can serve to raise suspicion:


Please access the USAMRIID's Medical Management of Biological Casualties Handbook at this link.

The resource is enormous and very generous with information of use in any health facility.

The answer to the question below is found in "The Drug/Vaccine Considerations in Special Populations" file, which is on the 2nd page of Appendix M.

Be prepared to answer the following question.

Which medications are generally considered safe to be administered to nursing mothers?


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