Bioterrorism and the Flu

Bioterrorism and the flu are two words one might not think to use in the same sentence but after careful review of recent events and the rising political climate, one might think again.  While the detection of a virus as a weapon of terrorists may not be an easily come upon conclusion, healthcare workers, public health and government officials together must be hypervigilant for this subversive tactic.  Bioterrorism involves the intentional spreading of a disease or death causing agent within a population (Girard, 2018).

As technology advances and science evolves the reality of an engineered bioterrorism event using influenza is all the more believable.  To determine whether a flu pandemic was sourced organically or intentionally spread, one would have to trace the travel and contacts of each newly infected person.  This task may be daunting but different cases placed in a database (as they currently are reported to the CDC) with the addition of recent travel or contacts could create a matrix connecting a source.

The scientific discovery of the bird flu being aerosolized is proof of the current abilities terrorist may have to spread influenza on a massive scale (Vogel, 2013).  If H1N1 could be disseminated this way couldn’t seasonal influenza as well?   In an attempt to address the difficult task of an outbreaks origin (natural or unnatural), scientists have proposed a methodology to assist with this determination (Cieslak, Kortepeter, Wojtyk, Jansen, & Reyes, 2018).  The nature of influenza as a virus that is spread by droplet, not easily detectable in large quantities and the lack of a true reversal agent ranks influenza on the higher (more dangerous) end of this scale (Cieslak et al., 2018).

It is difficult to quantify how many emergency department admissions or number of deaths due to the flu would raise suspicion for a bioterrorist attack.  More likely detection would be achieved by raising awareness of healthcare staff.  In the same way as people are screened for travel outside the country to detect for things like Ebola, flu positive patients should be questioned for recent travel (including domestically) and recorded.  Communication with other regional and national emergency departments and hospitals to track for patterns and cross reference data on patient’s recent whereabouts could provide a helpful framework for detecting origin.


Cieslak, T., Kortepeter, M., Wojtyk, R., Jansen, H., & Reyes, R. (2018). Beyond the dirty dozen: A proposed methodology for assessing future bioweapon threats. Military Medicine, 138, 59-65. Retrieved from

Girard, J. E. (2018). Criminalistics: Forensic science, crime, and terrorism (4th ed.). Burlington, MA: Jones & Barlett Learning.

Vogel, K. (2013). Expert knowledge in intelligence assessments: Bird flu and bioterrorism. International Security, 38(3), 39-71. Retrieved from


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