Meet the companies and researchers protecting us from bioterrorists who plan to harness the destructive power of infectious diseases.
Stephanie Sutton |
The West African Ebola virus epidemic killed over 11,000 people and sparked global panic. It also highlighted an important issue: our world is not well prepared for a global public health crisis. The epidemic potential of Ebola had been under discussion for years before the outbreak hit, and yet we had no targeted therapeutics, vaccines, diagnostics, or plans in place. It was fortunate (for those outside of West Africa) that the virus was largely contained, but the number of deaths caused by a single infectious disease is surely unacceptable for an industry that prides itself on improving human health and saving lives. Countermeasures for Ebola are now under development and the Democratic Republic of Congo approved the use of an experimental vaccine earlier this year to help contain Ebola outbreaks.
Ebola is just one example of an infectious diseases that has the potential to cause mass deaths, disruption and panic across the globe. It is also an unfortunate fact that there are those who seek to use infectious diseases as biological weapons. Bacillus anthracis, the pathogen behind anthrax, for example, is naturally occurring and, with the right expertise, can be isolated and cultivated for delivery via aerosol. The threat of bioterrorism has been intensely discussed in the US ever since the country was affected by anthrax attacks in 2001, but the Ebola outbreak has further fuelled the discussion – and may have highlighted to budding bioterrorists how underprepared the world is and just how powerful infectious diseases can be. Aside from infectious diseases, bioterrorists have access to other bioweapons too, such as nerve agents. Novichok was recently used in the UK to target an ex-spy, but some civilians were caught in the biocrossfire. Antidotes do exist but must be administered rapidly, which would likely be infeasible after a large-scale incident.
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