Bioterrorism Detector

Bio Terrorism

Doctors throughout the world have been advised on how to diagnose and respond to anthrax by the government in the aftermath of the outbreaks in the United States.

The Public Health Laboratory Service (PHLS) has issued the guidance to health professionals in its weekly report on disease control.

The advice follows a series of mystery outbreaks of the disease in America amid fears of bio-terrorism. The threat of bio-terrorism is being discussed by doctors from around the world at a meeting in the French town of Ferney-Voltaire, near the border with Switzerland.

There's clearly a role in terms of public health, in helping to plan for the event of an attack on a city .Participants will produce a declaration on what doctors and medical authorities can do to prepare for and prevent an attack using biological weapons.

The attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon last month have aroused many people's fears of biological and chemical weapons.

Dr Vivienne Nathanson, Head of Ethics and Science at the British Medical Association who will be at the WMA meeting, says there is a clear need for doctors to get involved.

"There's clearly a role in terms of public health, in helping to plan for the event of an attack on a city, say, to try to make sure that governments are producing the right kinds of vaccines, have them in the right places, and have policies in place for dealing with potentially thousands of critically ill people."

The logistics involved in trying to prepare for an attack involving biological weapons are formidable.

Vaccines do exist for bacteria such as anthrax and plague, but supplies are nowhere near the levels needed to immunize whole populations, and in some cases the safety of the vaccines has never been properly evaluated. The best defence against such an attack is to prevent it from happening in the first place.

The final declaration from the meeting is likely to emphasize what Dr Nathanson refers to as the "moral duty" of doctors and scientists to constantly monitor their peers for signs that they may be involved in developing biological weapons.