Anthrax Alert: Biological Warfare?
By KRISTEN STERNBERG
NIE EDUCATIONAL CONSULTANT
In the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States that killed nearly 3,000 people, America is on high alert to the possibility of further acts of terrorism. As U.S. and allied military forces conduct bombing raids in Afghanistan, here at home security has been tightened at airports and transportation depots, government and other important buildings, and schools and public events-where ever people are likely to gather in crowds. Extra security measures have helped many to start feeling safe again. Even so, in the background, training goes on for those who may be called upon to deal with an attack using biological weapons.
Firefighters with the Palm Coast and Flagler County fire departments along with members of the St. Johns County HAZMAT team work to decontaminate an area of Buddy Taylor Middle School in Palm Coast. (Photo: The News-Journal/Bryan Myrick)
People have long known how to use disease as a weapon against others, and anthrax has existed throughout time. Historical documents tell us that Roman armies placed dead animals in their enemy's water supply to spread sickness, while much more recently some Japanese fanatics released a gas into the Tokyo subway that killed many people.
Recent incidents involving the potentially deadly disease called anthrax, however, are causing new concerns. A number of government officials, news celebrities and other individuals have received mail that contained the anthrax bacteria. Read The News-Journal article to see how a powdered form of the bacteria was sent through the mail!
National officials haven't yet released information on whether the anthrax samples they've tested are the work of an organized terrorist ring, or whether they are simply hoaxes (vicious pranks) by unrelated individuals. Circumstances have prompted experts to recommend that all people be alert to the risks so that if they do receive a suspicious package they will act appropriately. Promptly notifying the police will help ensure that if a package is deemed unsafe, the proper authorities can determine the extent of the threat as well as keep it from spreading.
So far, much of the mail containing anthrax has been directed toward government, big business and media employees. Suspicious mail is also turning up in isolated incidents around the world-in France, England, Australia and elsewhere. Locally, the newspaper has published several reports of suspicious powder; as of 10/17/01, though, all of these local area substances have tested negative for anthrax.
Anthrax is a disease caused by bacteria. It typically occurs in cattle, sheep, camels and other hoofed mammals, but humans can also get it. People don't infect each other, though-in order to be infected a person has to come into direct contact with the bacteria. Different varieties of the disease are contracted in different ways: some by eating undercooked meat of infected animals, some through the skin (through a cut or bruise) and some by breathing bacteria spores. If an infected person is treated with antibiotics early enough, he or she will almost certainly recover. Over the entire past century fewer than 10 people have died from anthrax. In normal times, the vast majority of U.S. residents are not at risk of contracting it. Many wonder, however, whether that will change if biological weapons such as the anthrax bacteria are used.
Want to learn more about biological warfare? Check out the newspaper activities and Web links below!
Try these interesting activities using The News-Journal
- Cartoonists often use their creations to address social and political issues of the time. Read the Comics section of your newspaper to see whether your favorite cartoon characters have opinions on this issue. Draw a cartoon expressing your own views. (Sunshine State Standards: LA.A.1.2.1, LA.A.1.2.2, LA.A.2.2.5, LA.A.2.2.8, VA.A.1.2.1, VA.B.1.2.1, VA.B.1.2.2, VA.B.1.2.3, VA.C.1.2.2, VA.E.1.2.1)
Employees at the Orange City Wal-Mart Superstore line up to have their hands washed after a suspicious package may have contaminated the store Monday morning. (Photo: The News-Journal/Kelly Jordan)
- The potential use of biological weapons by terrorists has resulted in a new word, bioterrorism, which was formed by combining 'biological' and 'terrorism.' As you search your newspaper, be on the lookout for other combination words. If possible, use a word processor to keep an alphabetized list of your words to print and display from time to time. Try to use the words in conversations with friends and family. They are sure to be impressed! (Sunshine State Standards: LA.A.1.2.2, LA.A.1.2.3, LA.A.2.2.5, LA.B.2.2.2, LA.B.2.2.4)
- Use your newspaper to develop a glossary of all terms related to biological warfare and/or terrorism. Write a brief definition next to each word you find and clip. Mount your project on a large sheet of paper. Show your display to your teachers and offer to tell others in your class what you have learned. (Sunshine State Standards: LA.A.1.2.2, LA.A.1.2.3, LA.A.2.2.5, LA.B.2.2.2)
- Collect news articles about specific countries involved in the War on Terrorism. Next, obtain a copy of an outline map of the world. On the map, identify all of the countries mentioned in your clippings, and use your newspaper and other resources to indicate the leader or leaders of each. Show your display to your teachers and offer to tell others in your class what you learned. (Sunshine State Standards: SS.A.1.2.1, SS.A.1.2.2, SS.B.1.2.1, SS.B.1.2.5)
- During times of war and other stresses, many people find their community becomes more important to them. Most communities have a variety of agencies to help area residents. Over a period of several days, read the newspaper and make a list of the community organizations mentioned. Use information found in the newspaper to describe, in as much detail as possible, the purpose each agency serves in your area. Arrange the articles with your list and display it, if possible, at your school, public library or neighborhood resource center to educate others. (Sunshine State Standards: SS.C.2.2.1)
A copy of Florida's Sunshine State Standards can be found at intech2000.miamisci.org/.
Check out these links to learn more
News media like CNN, for example, regularly offer the latest developments on biological warfare news and issues. Take a look at "10 things you need to know about anthrax" and much more. (www.cnn.com)
A Volusia County HAZMAT member displays a suspicious envelope retrieved from Dr. DeNicolo's office. (Photo: The News-Journal/David Tucker)
During certain historical periods some biological viruses were rampant. Travel back in time at this Web site, where you can experience what life must have been like during the Black Plague. The 14th century plague wiped out almost 1/3 of the people in Europe at the time! (scorescience.humboldt.k12.ca.us)
Viruses are microbes-the smallest form of life on earth. Get the facts on viruses and other microbes at The Microbe Zoo - be sure to check out major attractions like the Animal Pavilion and the Snack Bar!
How much do you know about viruses? Be a "Doctor for a Day," find how the military is capable of using viruses and play a Virus Game at this ThinkQuest site. (library.thinkquest.org)
The Newspaper Association of America's web site contains links to many newspapers in the U.S. and around the world. Visit the site and check some of them out, to see if they have recently published any articles on this topic. To access the newspapers at the site, select a state. Click on the "Internationals" button to view choices from other countries.
Published October 22, 2001
Updated, October 4, 2007