Any outbreak or disease that involves the intentional release or dissemination of biological agents like bacteria and virus comprises bioterrorism. Ebola is one such virus that has alarmed the entire globe’s security with its virulent properties. 2014 Ebola outbreak in Africa is the largest outbreak in history having 90% of fatal rate. The frequency of human accessibility of Ebola in Africa and other suspected countries is increasing at an alarming rate; this unprecedented outbreak and virus accessibility has raised the question of the human usage of the virus for harmful purposes or more aptly for bioterrorism. Any intentional or planned acquisition of this virus by terrorist groups will dismay the global security. This is because of the reasons that Ebola is pathogenicity and is very high. Furthermore, there is no vaccines developed so far to undo the adverse effects. Threat is possible because not only diseases is infectious and could be spread to adjoining places to Africa but also virus could be used as potential bioterrorist agent.
Epidemiology of Ebola
Ebola naturally occurs in the animal population and could be transmitted to humans through direct contact with the bodily fluids or contaminated clothes or linens of an infected person. Ebola causes Ebola haemorrhagic fever, which has the symptoms as that of common flu like fever and bleeding from orifices followed by other symptoms vomiting, diarrhoea, fatigue, headache and myalgia. These symptoms are characteristics of another disease as well which makes the diagnosis of Ebola difficult hence a person could be misdiagnosed and mistreated. As for treatment, there is no vaccine available so far, though scientists are working for years toward finding preventive and post exposure treatments yet no approved vaccine for humans has yet been developed. However, a vaccine approved against viral haemorrhagic fevers may be rewarding but it will take time to develop.
Transforming Ebola in a bioweapon is difficult and unlikely to happen
The virus is highly pathogenic in nature, and it has enormous potential to be used as a bioweapon, this ability of virus is indeed a global security threat. However, it is noteworthy that the virus itself is not a biological weapon but it could be transformed in bioweapon by application of tacit skills and knowledge of a scientist. Any biological agent to be used as a bioweapon could either be detained from natural hosts or synthesise artificially in a laboratory. Specifically talking about Ebola, it is difficult to create an Ebola terror because of the following reasons-
Isolating any bio agent in its natural environment calls for high level of expertise in microbiology, same applies to Ebola extraction.
With Ebola, there are no chances of a bio attack unless induced by aerosol form. Aerosol form is highly devastating form of Ebola. However, Ebola in aerosol form is ‘not a major mode of transmission in human, as per researches.
Another difficulty is weaponisation of any bio-organism. A high-level scientific knowledge and technical acumen are pre-requisites to transform a micro-organism into a bioweapon. This knowledge could be acquired through hands-on practice and experience. A live host (either animal or a human) infected with the virus is required, out of which the virus could be extracted. Only a few animals are known to serve as Ebola hosts, including primates, bats and forest antelope, and none of these is particularly easy to detain. Let’s assume terrorist group captures a live host, now they need to transport this host to suitably equipped laboratories, known as Category 4 or Biosafety level 4 Labs, which are not easy to come by, in fact there are very few category-4 labs setup worldwide. Failure to work in such labs will quickly dispose of virus to death. Additionally the process to weaponize involves enrichment, refining, toughening, milling and preparation, and Ebola is not well suited to any of these processes.
Ebola virus is sensitive to climactic conditions, like exposure to sunlight and extreme temperatures, once the virus is extracted from its host, it requires a specific environment to survive in. Generally, Ebola virus is believed to survive in relatively high temperatures and humidity, if it does not find a suitable climatic condition in host population, the climatic conditions will kill it off quickly.
Even if bioweapons are developed out of Ebola, virus will not disseminate that easily because Ebola is not an airborne virus and gets transmitted through the consumption of contaminated meat and direct contact with infected bodily fluid. Moreover, by following proper protocol, Ebola turns to be less contagious than common viruses, such as measles or the flu.
The Ebola attack is deadly and can strike anyone in direct contact with the virus. Therefore, it is our responsibility to be alert and suspicious of any flu like symptoms and seek medical care immediately.