As we enter the 21st century the threats of biological warfare and bioterrorism (so called asymmetric threats) appear to be more real than ever before. Historical evidence suggests that biological weapons have been used, with varying degrees of success, for many centuries. Despite the international agreements to ban such weapons, namely the 1925 Geneva Protocol and the 1975 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, there is no effective international mechanism for challenging either the development of biological weapons or their use. Advances in technology and the rise of fundamentalist terror groups combine to present a significant threat to western democracies. A timely and definitive response to this threat will require co-operation between governments on a scale never seen before. There is a need for proper planning, good communication between various health, home office, defence and intelligence agencies and sufficient financial support for a realistic state of preparedness. The Department of Health has produced guidelines for responding to real or suspected incidents and the Public Health Laboratory Service (PHLS) has produced detailed protocols to inform the actions required by microbiologists and consultants in communicable disease control. These protocols will be published on the Department of Health and PHLS web sites.
Copyright 2001 The British Infection Society.