Assessing the Biological Threat Posed by Suicide Bombers   [open pdf - 702KB]

"The secondary threat of biological contamination with pathogenic organisms posed by suicide bombers is a significant knowledge gap. Studies of the 2005 London tube acts of terrorism highlighted the biological dimension to the threat, where the suicide bomber's bones acted as shrapnel and infected bystanders with hepatitis B. While it is unlikely the terrorist intended to spread this particular disease, we must now evaluate the possibility of intentional self-infection with highly contagious pathogens before a planned suicide bombing. Although infection by the implantation of bone fragments has been demonstrated in the past, the aerosolization of the remains of a bomber must be examined as well. Knowledge of the true contamination zone resulting from both aerosols and larger fragments from the bomber will aid first responders in preventing the risk of a potential epidemic by use of well directed decontamination and accurate determination of individuals exposed to potentially infectious agents. To address the problem of secondary, infectious after effects of a suicide bombing, we performed a series of outdoor tests to determine if aerosols were generated that could harbor living organisms. 'Our results demonstrate that aerosols generated can protect living organisms from the heat and pressure of an explosion and that those aerosols can be carried long distances, even upwind by the explosion.' To perform the tests, we used ballistic gelatin as test organisms were easily and uniformly distributed throughout each model used. Although more complex, and possibly more accurate, models of a suicide bomber were considered, budget and time constraints limited us to the ballistic gelatin blocks."

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