Bioterrorism Targeting Animals by Andrea Evans
What is Bioterrorism?
When people hear the word “bioterrorism” they generally associate it with a biological attack directly targeting the human population. Bioterrorism can be defined as the deliberate release of viruses, bacteria and other germs used to cause illness or death in people, plants, or animals (CDC 2007). We seem to ignore all of the indirect threats such as plants and animals that can greatly impact the society if targeted.
Bioterrorism Targeting Animal Agriculture
A specific form of bioterrorism is bioterrorism targeting animal agriculture. This form of bioterrorism involves terrorists targeting livestock such as cows, pigs, sheep, etc. in order to indirectly impact their enemy. This presents a problem for those involved because by targeting animals, terrorists are able to not only spread disease, but also are able to impact their targets economy severely. People began using animals to target their enemies since the 14th and 15th centuries. They did this by catapulting rotting animal corpses over into their enemy’s home base. People of that time were able to associate a rotting animal corpse with some sort of biological infection. Today, there is a much better understanding of biology which allows terrorists to utilize it in bioterrorism attacks.
Why Is The United States A Major Target?
The United States is currently the largest distributor in the world of livestock. The United States is the source of many countries food supplies throughout the world. Given that the United States is the leading distributor, much of our growth in economy comes from the distribution of livestock (Olson 2012). The United States is a major target in a bioterrorism attack because if the United States must halt its distribution, they will lose all of their connections to other countries. If the United States were to be under a bioterrorism attack on their livestock, the U.S. would not be able to distribute. This would significantly impact the U.S. economy as well as potentially cause the U.S. to lose its distributing connections with other countries.
What Types of Disease Are We Talking about?
Anthrax: Anthrax is a lethal disease affecting mostly animals caused by Bacillus anthracis. Anthrax is capable of being contracted in the skin, lungs and gastrointestinal tract. Animals are capable of spreading this disease to humans, but humans are incapable of spreading this disease to each other. Sources of anthrax can be from body wastes and carcasses of infection animals and can easily be accidently handled or ingested by humans, further spreading the disease (Liu et al. 2013).
Foot-And-Mouth: Foot-and- Mouth (FMD) disease is a lethal disease targeting the hooves and mouths of animals such as horses and cows. FMD is caused by the bacteria Aphthae epizooticae. This bacteria is extremely hard to vaccinate against because it variable, coming in many different forms. This viral disease is easily spread from animal to animal and causes a major threat on animal farming. Animals infected with this disease are incapable of be utilized as an agricultural source due to the infection.
Avian Influenza: Avian influenza is most commonly known as the bird flu caused by the influenza A virus. Most avian influenzas do not infect humans, but overtime some have developed the capabilities of infecting humans. Avian influenza has a major impact on poultry populations and can cause a decrease in production. Once a bird has a confirmed case of avian influenza, surrounding birds must be killed and the infection sites must be sanitized to decrease further spreading of the influenza. This form of sanitation is called depopulation. Depopulation is a method of quickly destroying a large number of animals in order to prevent further spreading of a given infection (Martcheva 2014). In order to manage and maintain spread of avian influenza, proper protocols must be followed.
What Can We Do To Prevent it?
Prevention from a bioterrorism attack on agriculture requires an increase in security at major farming locations. Daily, animals are taken in and out of distribution warehouses and put into contact with thousands of animals. Increasing the security and maintenance of animals being brought in and out of facilities will help prevent diseases from getting into livestock distribution warehouses. We can also prevent major bioterrorism attacks on livestock by following proper protocols when an infection hits. This includes proper depopulation of all animals infected.
Liu, S., Y. Zhang, M. Moayeri, et al. (10 co-authors). 2013. Key tissue responsible for anthrax-toxin-induced lethality. Nature. 501: 63-68.
Martcheva, M. 2014. Avian flu: modeling and implications for control. Jour. Bio. Sys. 22: 151-175.
Olson, D. 2012. Agroterrorism: threats to America’s economy and food supply. FBI Law Enf. Bull. 81: 1-1.