Biological weapons are microorganisms like virus, bacteria, fungi, or other toxins that are produced and released deliberately to cause disease and death in humans, animals or plants.
Biological agents, like anthrax, botulinum toxin and plague can pose a difficult public health challenge causing large numbers of deaths in a short amount of time while being difficult to contain. Bioterrorism attacks could also result in an epidemic, for example if Ebola or Lassa viruses were used as the biological agents.
Biological weapons is a subset of a larger class of weapons referred to as weapons of mass destruction, which also includes chemical, nuclear and radiological weapons. The use of biological agents is a serious problem, and the risk of using these agents in a bioterrorist attack is increasing.
WHO focuses on the possible public health consequences of an incident, regardless of whether it is characterized as a deliberate act or a naturally occurring event.
When a Member State is concerned and wants to be prepared, WHO advises strengthening public health surveillance and response activities, with an emphasis on:
- more effective national surveillance of outbreaks of illness, including alert and response systems at all levels that can detect diseases that may be deliberately caused;
- better communication between multiple sectors, including public health, water supply, food safety, nuclear safety and poison-control;
- improved assessments of vulnerability, and effective communication about risks to both professionals and the public;
- preparation for handling the psychosocial consequences of the deliberate use of pathogens and chemicals to cause harm; and
- contingency plans for an enhanced response capacity by all sectors.