A bioter­rorism attack could spread to sev­eral con­ti­nents before it is even detected, according to a star­tling new sci­en­tific study. 

The study found that if a small group of ter­ror­ists infected them­selves with a dis­ease such as smallpox and walked around London, then the pathogens could spread to up to four nations before doc­tors man­aged to diag­nose it. 

‘A delib­erate smallpox release is likely to assume an inter­na­tional dimen­sion even before the epi­demic is iden­ti­fied,’ the researchers wrote in the  study, which was pub­lished in this month’s Sci­en­tific Reports, a trade pub­li­ca­tion.

‘We show through large-​​scale individual-​​based sim­u­la­tions that bio­log­ical tar­geted attacks on a single city can result in the pres­ence of exposed indi­vid­uals in sev­eral coun­tries before the health system is aware of the release and the ensuing outbreak.’

Devel­oped nations have con­tin­gency plans to con­tain bio­log­ical attacks, but the study points out that the pathogens could rapidly over­take less devel­oped nations that don’t have the same resources.

‘Some of the coun­tries that could be affected may not have health infra­struc­tures able to timely cope effi­ciently with the emer­gency dic­tated by a highly path­o­genic virus out­break,’ the study notes.

The researchers who con­ducted the study rec­om­mend that inter­na­tional health orga­ni­za­tions better pre­pare for the pos­si­bility of a bio­log­ical attack that orig­i­nates in a remote location.

‘They need to think about sharing resources,’ one of the researchers, Alessandro Vespig­nani, told Quartz. Vespig­nani is a health sci­ences pro­fessor at North­eastern University. 

Parts of the study were not pub­lished due to inter­na­tional secu­rity concerns. 

‘According to the com­ments of biosafety reviewers, we have removed quan­ti­ta­tive data on risk prob­a­bility and out­break size in dif­ferent sce­narios,’ the researchers wrote. ‘Those addi­tional out­puts can be shared with gov­ern­ment offi­cials and biose­cu­rity researchers upon request.’

 

Read the article at Daily Mail →