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Biological Hazards

The threat of a biological attack results from the intentional release of germs or other biological agents. These biological agents, often invisible to the naked eye, can be inhaled, ingested or transferred through the skin and the results could be sickness or death. Many biological agents, such as the smallpox virus, can also cause contagious diseases, which could be transferred from person to person.


By its very nature, a biological attack may not be predictable or even immediately detectable. Often a biological attack is only discovered from a pattern of illnesses, such as a wave of people seeking treatment for similar symptoms. In the most likely scenario, you will learn of a biological attack through media coverage.

As we saw with the Anthrax mailings, it often takes time to determine the exact nature of a biological attack. You should stay up-to-date on developments through radio, TV or over the Internet. Pay close attention to the following:

  • Is your community in a high risk area?
  • What are the signs and symptoms?
  • Are vaccines being distributed? If so, who is receiving them? And where are they available?
  • Where should you seek medical care?


If you are aware of an unusual release of an unknown substance, it is very important that you seek protection by removing yourself from the contaminated area. In order to avoid or reduce the likelihood of ingesting contaminated air, you should cover your mouth and nose with layers of damp fabric. Also, it is important that you always maintain good hygiene to avoid spreading germs.

For more information, visit the National Institutes of Health.


After a declared biological emergency, it is very important that you keep a sharp watch for symptoms. However, symptoms from biological attack are often similar to those we experience with everyday illnesses, so do not automatically assume contamination. Seek prompt medical advice to determine your best method of response.