Technology against Terror; October 2002; Scientific American Magazine; by Rocco Casagrande; 6 Page(s)
In May 2000 high-ranking members of the U.S. government watched as a cloud of bacteria wafted through the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, a complex of seven theaters that seats a total of 7,000. One week later thousands of people were dead or dying from the plague, the state borders of Colorado were closed, food and medical supplies began to run short, and medical care was all but shut down as doctors and nurses fell ill and antibiotics were used up. Luckily, this scenario wasn't real; it was a computerized exercise to simulate the effects of a biological attack against a target in the U.S. Part of a test named TopOff, it served as a wake-up call to civic leaders that they can't wait for sick people to start showing up at emergency rooms if they hope to wage an effective defense against biological weapons. Scientists are now devising a range of early-warning systems to alert government officials to an attack as it is happening. These technologies include DNA-and antibodybased biochips as well as "electronic noses" that can sniff out deadly microbes.
Are We Under Attack?: BIOLOGICAL WARFARE is insidious. Airborne clouds of bacterial or viral agents are nearly invisible and odorless; people who inhale the agents would not know they had been attacked until they fell ill days later. By that time, it might be too late to treat those victims or to protect others from infection. Although most biological agents are not very contagious, in many instances the unknowingly infected could pass on the disease.