WHO/S.G.Amatya
                                A nurse learning how to wear a hazmat suit at a WCO Nepal workshop; S. G. Amatya
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                                Biological weapons

                                  Overview

                                  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's Response

                                  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. 
                                  WHO’s global alert and response activities and the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network represent a major pillar of global health security aimed at the detection, verification and containment of epidemics. In the event of the intentional release of a biological agent these activities would be vital to effective international containment efforts.

                                  Publications

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                                  Managing epidemics: Key facts about major deadly diseases

                                  Epidemics of infectious diseases are occurring more often, and spreading faster and further than ever, in many different regions of the world. The background...

                                  Mental health of populations exposed to biological and chemical weapons

                                  While attention has been focused on the biomedical role of public health in the rapid identification of a biological or chemical attack and its medical...

                                  Terrorist threats to food: guidance for establishing and strengthening prevention and response systems

                                  The malicious contamination of food for terrorist purposes is a real and current threat, and deliberate contamination of food at one location could have...

                                  Preparedness for the deliberate use of biological agents : a rational approach to the unthinkable

                                  Routine surveillance systems for epidemic-prone and emerging infectious diseases enhance the capacity to detect and investigate deliberately caused outbreaks,...