The most destructive weapon on Earth is not a nuclear bomb but a virus that can not only kill its host, but also spread from person to person unknowingly. It is said that the Black Plague wiped out half of the European population. Now, one can imagine terrorist using a similar virus to attack large American cities. America’s borders are strong when it comes to stopping weapons and drugs from crossing over but weak when it is necessary to detect biological threats. Through strictly enforcing procedure, advanced training, and technology, biosecurity will be better to handle the prevention, detection, and containment of biological threats.
Bacteriological weapons are disease-causing microbes and bacterial poisons (toxins), designed to destroy people, animals, plants, and contaminate food and water sources (Win and Al Masum). The danger of biological weaponry lies in the fact that with the defeat of bacterial agents, a disease does not occur at once; there is usually a hidden (incubation) period during which the disease does not manifest itself by external signs, and an affected person does not lose combat capability. It is established that the use of bacterial agents and the determination of the type of agent are quite difficult because germs or toxins have no color, no smell, no taste, and the effect of their actions may occur after a long period of time (Ryan & Glarum). Detection of bacterial agents is possible only through special laboratory tests that take a considerable amount of time, making it difficult to perform timely activities to prevent epidemics. Therefore, by the time bacteria or viruses are detected, they already can cause great harm. That is why biological weaponry is far more dangerous than a nuclear bomb or other weapons of mass destruction.
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Depending on the structure and biological properties of the microbes divided into bacteria, viruses, rickettsiae, and fungi (Win & Al Masum). Bacteria are microorganisms of vegetable origin, mainly unicellular and visible only with a microscope. Under favorable conditions, they multiply very quickly by simply dividing every 20-30 min. When exposed to sunlight, disinfectants and boiling, bacteria die quickly, but some of them (anthrax, tetanus, botulism), turning into germs, have a high resistance to these factors. When conditions for the development are favorable, the spores germinate and become a vegetative (active) form of the bacteria. The bacteria are not very sensitive to low temperatures and can easily tolerate freezing. Bacteria cause plague, cholera, anthrax and other diseases (Ryan & Glarum).
Viruses are tiny organisms that are thousands of times smaller than bacteria. Unlike bacteria, viruses replicate only in living tissues. Many of them can withstand drying and a temperature above 100°C. Viruses can cause diseases such as smallpox, influenza, and others. Rickettsiae in sizes and shapes are close to some bacteria, but they develop and live only in the tissues of infected organs (Win & Al MAsunm). Fungi are bacteria of vegetable origin, but more sophisticated in structure. Resistance to the action of fungi chemical factors is much higher than the bacteria; they tolerate exposure to sunlight and drying very well. Some microbes, such as bacteria of botulism, tetanus, diphtheria produce highly active toxins that cause severe poisoning. Therefore, toxins are considered as a type of biological weaponry as well (Ryan & Glarum).
There are microbes that can cause diseases in animals. Among these infectious diseases, one can distinguish foot and mouth disease, pig influenza, sheep pox, glanders, anthrax, and others. These bacteria are said to be deadly to animals, but they can harm human organisms as well. These microbes damage animals that humans eat (National Research Council). Thus, after consumption of infected meat, milk or other animal products, a person can be infected as well. Animal diseases in the human organism can cause unpredicted consequences, such as heavy damage to health or even death. Recent cases of pig virus invasion through the U.S. border (Mole, 2013) only confirm the threat that animal microbes present to human health. Therefore, animal infections are also to be considered as biological weapons and they require special measures of protection.
The main means of protection of the population against biological weapons include vaccination, antibiotics, sulfa drugs, and other substances used for special and emergency prevention of infectious diseases, individual and collective protection, and chemicals used for decontamination of infectious diseases. If there are signs of enemy use of biological weapons or signs of unknown infection, it is required to wear masks (respirators) immediately, use skin care, and report it to the nearest headquarters, director of the institution, the head of the enterprise or organization or the security.
Because of the use of biological weapons, a zone of biological contamination and pockets of biological weapons is formed. Area of biological contamination is a district area (water area) or the airspace, where the infected pathogens are hazardous for the population within. A hotbed of biological destruction is an area, within which the application of biological agents, human, farm animals and plant diseases took place. Size of the focus of biological damage depends on the type of biological agents, the scope and methods of their application. For the prevention of spreading infectious diseases among the population in the region, the complex of anti-sanitary measures is implemented: emergency prevention; observation and quarantine; sanitization of the population; different disinfection of infected objects (Falk, Wallace, & Ndoen).
However, all these measures become more effective in case there exist means for detection of biological danger. The most frequent way bacteria spread is travelling and via infected animals. Unfortunately, nowadays in America there are not enough security measures against bacteriological threats in airports, seaports, and for animal products import. Unfortunately, the state of the modern biosecurity system at America’s borders is rather weak (Falk, Wallace, & Ndoen) and there is a necessity of additional programs for prevention of biological threat implementation.
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Detection and Prevention
Modern American Biosecurity System
Recognition of a bacteriological attack, i.e. detection of the fact of the use of bacteriological weapons or a simple infection from outside of the country, and certain uses of pathogens (or their products), apparently, is not always feasible, especially when it comes to determining the species or pathogens serotype. Existing methods of indication pathogens in the overwhelming majority of countries as well as the United States are based either on the application of serological tests for the detection of antigens in the test substrate or on accelerated methods for growing pathogens. In the former case, the antigen concentration is difficult to be detected in sufficient quantity without risking nonspecific (false) serological response.
In the second case, it requires a more or less long period of time, measured in the best case for many hours, or at least a few days, when it comes to viruses (Ryan & Glarum). Therefore, if bacteriological weapons are used, there will be a necessity to deal not only with their display, but to diagnose the effects of their application in the form of the disease in humans or animals. In some cases, diagnosis of these diseases can represent an unusual difficulty in the way of invading the body as well as mixed infections. However, one should not exaggerate these difficulties as commonly used methods of clinical and laboratory diagnosis of infectious diseases, and there should be the most reliable means of recognition of the results of a bacteriological attack.
As it can be seen, this method is not quite useful since there are several people who do a bacteriological investigation after a trip to another country. This strategy is rather costly and long and does not provide the required level of biosecurity while being very useful after infection detections since it provides the type and pathogenesis of a microbe, and thus the possible ways of its elimination. Among other existing means of biosecurity, one can find several regulations that are supposed to provide guidelines for detection and prevention of biological invasion. For example, in 2002, the Federal government approved the Agricultural Bioterrorism Protection Act, which was supposed to regulate the action federal authorities should take in case of infection. This document was mainly approved and implemented by the U.S.
Food and Drug Administration (FDA) (United States. Congress. Senate. Committee on Agriculture) since these guidelines were primarily meant for regulation of agricultural products imported to the U.S. from abroad. In 2006, in the first session of one hundred ninth congress Robert Brackett said that “These authorities [Act of 2002 and Public Health Security Act] improve our ability to act quickly in responding to a threatened or actual terroristic attack as well as other food-related emergencies’ ‘ (United States. Congress. Senate. Committee on Agriculture). Here, one can clearly see that the adopted regulations are not applicable for detection of a threat but at emergency measures for an existing threat. In addition, in 2009 the U.S. Government adopted the National Strategy for Countering Biological Threats. This document is quite useful in terms of regulation and providing the guidelines and legislative base for various agencies action in case of biological threat appearance. What is more, it provides the means for international cooperation for biosecurity and biological threat protection (Bush).
As it can be seen, all mentioned regulations as well as other legislative acts and laws contain guidelines for the elimination of already existing threats. The National Strategy for Countering Biological Threats includes the regulation that allows “[…] to detect, identify, and report promptly any public, animal, or plant health or agricultural emergencies of international concern” (Bush). However, these guidelines are mainly for the association with World Health Organization (WHO) and other international agencies and deal with the reporting about the threat after detection to the international community. Thus, there is no practical implementation of the Strategy for the biosecurity system.
As for the state of the agricultural biosecurity system, there are rather effective systems of detection of microbes and measures of infected products invasion to the U.S. The United States Environmental Protection Agency provides a list of necessary actions for imported agricultural products. They include quarantine for all new animals brought to the U.S., disinfection al all machinery and tools used for animal treatment; allowing only essential personnel to treat animals and providing them the required protection tools (clothing, footwear, etc.); securing buildings and utility lines; high sanitary standards; and proper treatment of dead (especially infected) animals. However, after the invasion of the pig virus in 2013, it became obvious that the existing system for imported agricultural products was not quite effective against new types of viruses. Vaccination of animals is also widely used as a method of biosecurity (United States Environmental Protection Agency, n.d.). Nevertheless, this practice is not effective against new viruses and again, does not detect it but eliminates already existing viruses or bacteria (if known). Considering everything mentioned above, it should be said that agricultural business is vulnerable to a biological threat also because agricultural business is “[…] not constrained by political boundaries” (United States. Congress. Senate. Committee on Agriculture).
Fortunately, the Agricultural Bioterrorism Protection Act of 2002 introduced some measures of protection for the U.S. from harmful agricultural production. For example, every product that is to be imported to the USA should be registered in the FDA as well as animal production. This requirement does not apply to the territory of the United States located on agricultural farms, the organization of retail sale of food, restaurants and non-profit organizations whose activities are related to the preparation of food or feed consumers. In accordance with the requirements of the Act, the FDA also kindly requested to report all foods intended for humans and animals that are imported or offered for import into the United States. Advance notice must be filed no later than 4 hours before the arrival of the flight, but not earlier than five days prior to the arrival. These regulations also require the quality certificate for the product and veterinary passport for animals imported (National Research Council).
The existing biosecurity system includes border control and vaccination policy. Vaccination is the only preventive measure for some of the viruses, such as smallpox (Ryan & Glarum). Again, this method is preventive in terms of not bringing an infection into the U.S. Nevertheless, it is not detectable and is ineffective for unknown viruses.
Border control, in its turn, means that the samples of agricultural products are tested in laboratories for the infections and viruses. The problem of such a control is that the sample may not be infected as distinct from other species. For human beings, border control means that people are checked for vaccination, in case a person travels to tropical or African countries. This check is performed by using disposable thermometers as well as conducting a visual inspection of passengers of transfer flights (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, n.d.). As it can be seen, these measures are not effective. A simple “eye examination” cannot provide the secure detection of an infection or a virus.
Finally, there are no special programs regulating the transportation of pets from abroad. The only measure for such pets is vaccination, which is quite effective for known viruses. In addition, the owner should provide a veterinary passport for a pet when transporting the pet into the country (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, n.d.). However, they are ineffective for unknown ones. In addition, the protection methods for viral, insect, and toxic threats are also not provided. The only measure is vaccination again, but it is ineffective in some cases since it is impossible to vaccinate a person from all possible diseases of a particular region. In addition, insects can convey an infectious disease, which can be extremely dangerous for a human being. However, protocols on the U.S. border do not include an inspection for infectious diseases and bacterial threat, and it is important to provide them in order to protect the country from the danger of being infected.
Useful Technologies and Strategies
In terms of weak epidemiological border control of the U.S., it is required to take some protective measures. One of the most widespread infections that invade America is viral infections. It is known that almost all infectious diseases are accompanied by fever. Thus, the simplest way of detecting a viral infection is a temperature measurement. However, it is hard to measure the temperature of every passenger in an air- or seaport. Thus, the convenient way is to install thermal sensors on every border control station in air-, seaports, and automobile borders. The use of thermal imaging as a device for thermal control will facilitate and accelerate the work of personnel since the device defines a person with fever directly in a moving stream.
The principle of operation of the thermal scanner is compatible with a conventional camera: infrared (thermal) radiation from the passenger through the optical system is transmitted to the receiver, which is an uncooled matrix by temperature. Further, the resulting video signal by the electronic unit of measurement, detection, and collection is digitized and displayed on a computer screen or any monitor that has video output, or on the display of the thermal imager. The scanner is completely safe for humans since the device only receives infrared radiation, not emits it, and it is approved for use for medical purposes. Thus, technical characteristics and usability of thermal scanners makes it an essential equipment to install on the U.S. border facilities.
As for the transfer of pets and agricultural animals, it should be noted that in European countries, the guidelines for animal transfer were adopted as early as in 2004, i.e. ten years ago (Falk, Wallace, & Ndoen). These rules are quite effective; thus, the implementation of similar rules makes sense for the U.S. border as well. For example, every pet, transferred across the border, should have an electronic identification (microchip), international veterinary certificate, international veterinary passport (with photo), vaccination against rabies (not later than twelve months prior the trip), and deworming and disinsection certificate. Some of these rules are applied in the U.S. border facilities (Falk, Wallace, & Ndoen). However, not all and not always. In addition, even in the European countries, except for several ones having very strict rules of import, infections are still transferred across the border despite the security measures (National Research Council). Thus, the implementation of quarantine for pets is an efficient measure for pet transfer. Nowadays quarantine is required only for baby-pets prior to the three-month age (National Research Council). However, it is important to implement it for adult pets as well. The quarantine would give the veterinary time for detections and check out the pet for unknown and/or dangerous infections and viruses. In addition, it allows a doctor to make all necessary vaccinations and observations for a pet.
Finally, one of the most important measures against bioterrorism is education. Border facility workers should be qualified and educated about symptoms of various diseases. Nowadays the personnel of border facilities are educated to recognize basic symptoms of infection – pallor, sweat, cough, or sneezing. However, a useful measure would educate personnel for recognition of more specific symptoms such as rash, shaking of hands, and others. After recognition of these symptoms, the member of border personnel should bring a passenger to a medical center. Medical personnel, watching the security cameras together with security members, are also a good idea for detection of the symptoms of the infection. What is also important, border facility personnel should also be equipped with protection measures against infection, such as masks since they are one of the first who meet newcomers in America, and they are the first to be infected.
Biological weapon is a weapon of mass destruction for people in a particular area, the effect of which is based on the use of biological agents, which are used as a mixture of biological agents and special agents, providing favorable conditions for a biological agent under the conditions of proper storage and use. Therefore, the danger of biological weapons lies in the high efficiency of their use, the complexity of the timely establishment of the fact its use, time consumption (several days) for their identification, covering large areas (several tens of square kilometers), the appearance of the lesions outside the area of infection, latent period the first signs of the disease (to several days), and their ability to penetrate into various structures.
After reading the above-mentioned information, one can conclude that the U.S. border system is vulnerable to biological threat and requires improved protection measures. Awareness of the global problem of biological danger confronts experts in various fields of science and practice and society as a whole, which is a task of ensuring human life in terms of protection against the negative effects of the influence of biotic factors. Therefore, the proposed methods for biosecurity should be considered as useful ones, and public and governmental authorities should think over the improvements of the border biosecurity facilities.