Disaster Supplies Kit
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Biological agents are organisms or toxins that can kill or
incapacitate people, livestock and crops. The three basic
groups of biological agents that would likely be used are
bacteria, viruses and toxins. Most biological agents are
difficult to grow and maintain. Many break down quickly when
exposed to sunlight and other environmental factors, while
others are very long lived. Biological agents can be
dispersed by spraying them into the air, by infecting
animals that carry the disease to humans and by
contaminating food and water. Delivery methods include:
Aerosols - biological agents are dispersed into the air,
forming a fine mist that may drift for miles
Animals - some diseases are spread by insects and animals
Food and water contamination - some pathogenic organisms and
toxins may persist in food and water supplies
Person-to-person - spread of a few infectious agents is also
Specific information on biological agents is available at
the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site.
Take Protective Measures
What can I do Before a Biological Attack?
Check with your doctor to ensure all required or suggested
immunizations are up to date
Consider installing a High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA)
filter in your furnace return duct
If you do not have a central heating or cooling system, a
stand-alone portable HEPA filter can be used
Filtration in Buildings
Building owners and managers should determine the type and
level of filtration in their structures and the level of
protection it provides against biological agents. The
National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)
provides technical guidance for filtration in buildings.
What do I do During a Biological Attack?
In the event of a biological attack, public health officials
may not immediately be able to provide information on what
you should do. It will take time to determine what the
illness is, how it should be treated and who is in danger.
Watch television, listen to radio or check the Internet for
official news and information including signs and symptoms
of the disease, areas in danger, if medications or
vaccinations are being distributed and where you should seek
medical attention if you become ill.
The first evidence of an attack may be when you notice
symptoms of the disease caused by exposure to an agent. Be
suspicious of any symptoms you notice, but do not assume
that any illness is a result of the attack. Use common sense
and practice good hygiene.
If you become aware of an unusual and suspicious substance
Move away quickly
Wash with soap and water
Listen to the media for official instructions
Seek medical attention if you become sick
If you are exposed to a biological agent:
Remove and bag your clothes and personal items
Follow official instructions for disposal of contaminated
Wash yourself with soap and water and put on clean clothes
Seek medical assistance
You may be advised to stay away from others or even
If you suspect that food has been contaminated, cook
thoroughly. Most microbes can be killed and toxins
deactivated, by cooking food and boiling water. Most
microbes are killed by boiling water for one minute, but
some require longer.
Using HEPA Filters
HEPA filters are useful in biological attacks. If you have a
central heating and cooling system in your home with a HEPA
filter, leave it on if it is running or turn the fan on if
it is not running. Moving the air in the house through the
filter will help remove the agents from the air. If you have
a portable HEPA filter, take it with you to the internal
room where you are seeking shelter and turn it on.
If you are in an apartment or office building that has a
modern, central heating and cooling system, the systemís
filtration should provide a relatively safe level of
protection from outside biological contaminants.
HEPA filters will not filter chemical agents.
What do I do After a Biological Attack?
In some situations people may be alerted to potential
exposure. If this is the case, pay close attention to all
official warnings and instructions on how to proceed. The
delivery of medical services for a biological event may be
handled differently to respond to increased demand. The
basic public health procedures and medical protocols for
handling exposure to biological agents are the same as for
any infectious disease. It is important for you to pay
attention to official instructions via radio, television,
and emergency alert systems.