January 22, 2018
1 min read

Is the US prepared for an attack with a weaponized biothreat like smallpox?

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Physicians have not only mulled and discussed the grave dangers posed to the United States by natural-borne infectious disease pandemics, but they have also warned of those that are engineered as weapons. Numerous experts consider the prospect of a terrorist attack on the U.S. with a weaponized and highly virulent pathogen a real danger.

Infectious Disease News asked Margaret E. Kosal, PhD, an associate professor and director of the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs security program at Georgia Tech, if the U.S. is prepared for an attack with a biological threat like smallpox or another potentially devastating disease.

Of all nations, the U.S. is likely the best prepared to deal with a terrorist-style attack with a weaponized biological threat or an emerging infectious disease challenge.

Margaret E. Kosal

The U.S. owes that standing largely to decades of investment in basic research, public health, countermeasures development (much of which originated in the -Defense Department) and global health. It is also due to a wealth of experienced people in law enforcement, county health departments, academia and the health care industry, as well as to a federal government that recognized and supported efforts from basic research to health diplomacy.

Does that mean that there are no vulnerabilities and gaps? No.

Understanding the origins, spread and best methods to respond to a bioterror attack or an emerging infectious disease outbreak requires more than just physicians. Especially important are those who can cross disciplines — from molecular biology to political science, public health to geography, communications to engineering, the intelligence community to the biomedical industry. Multidisciplinary expertise is desperately needed, especially in communicating the highest levels of biomedical science to policymakers.

Awareness of the importance of understanding and navigating the complex, interdependent globalized world of the 21st century is missing. That awareness will come from technical security scholars, historians, social scientists and those working in the field of international political economy.

There is also a dire need to better understand the motives and behavior of terrorist groups and their supporters, and better deterrence approaches are needed.

The U.S. needs to step up its metaphorical game, to recognize that preventing, preparing for and responding more effectively to a sophisticated bioterror attack is not the domain of any single discipline.

Disclosure: Kosal reports no relevant financial disclosures.