Dr. C.J. Peters warns of bioterror threat

According to Dr. C.J. Peters, former chief of special pathogens for the Centers for Disease Control and former head of the U.S. Army’s Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases disease assessment division, bioterrorism is a very real threat.

Peters, in an interview with WebMD, noted that, first and foremost, bioterrorism is a very complex issue and that biological attacks could come in a variety of different ways. Tularemia, plague, smallpox, anthrax, and viral hemorrhagic fevers, like Ebola, all pose potential threats.

“Those bugs can all be grown in large quantities at a special state-sponsored factory or some other factory such as the Japanese terrorist cult in Tokyo,” Peters told WebMD. “They could be spread around in an airborne fashion so as to infect many people.

"The only one of these that can spread from person to person is smallpox. The others only have limited ability to spread from one person to another.”

There is a concern that smallpox has or could fall into terrorist hands, Peters said.

“That is why the government has 7.5 million doses of smallpox vaccine stored away and why they are contracting to make 300 million more doses,” Peters told WebMD. “The other bugs can make you very sick and have a mortality rate of up to 100 percent if not treated, but they won't spread and cause an epidemic.”

Peters stressed it’s a fool’s game to try to outguess terrorists because they all have different motives, capabilities and abilities. The answer, he said, lies in strengthening our public health infrastructure.

“There are some things that we must guard against more specifically, and those are anthrax, smallpox, plague, tularemia and the viral hemorrhagic fevers,” Peters told WebMD. “These are capable of causing so many deaths and such disruption that we are obliged to make specific plans for them. That's why the U.S. is purchasing additional smallpox vaccine and has been stockpiling antibiotics.”

As far as the threat posed by bioterrorist attack, Peters said the threat is real.

“Three months ago you could mention the idea of bioterrorism at any level and someone would quickly give you 10 reasons why it could not possibly happen,” Peters said. “Nevertheless, government reports based on very bright and well-informed persons who had no ax to grind, said that we should be worried about terrorism in general, including explosives, nuclear devices, biological agents, and chemical agents. There warnings were unequivocal.”