The Oxford English Dictionary defines disaster as: “a sudden event, such as an accident or a natural catastrophe, that causes great damage or loss of life.” In the history of humans there have been innumerable amounts of disasters. Ranging from natural disasters, which include: tornadoes, earthquakes, epidemics, hurricanes, tsunamis, floods, avalanches, etc., to man-made disasters, which include: terrorist attacks, mass shootings, race riots, etc., to technological disasters, which include: chemical releases, power outages, natural gas explosions, etc. According to Jessica Karpilo, in her article “What are the 10 Deadliest Disasters in World History?” the 7.
0 magnitude earthquake that affected Haiti in January of 2010 is considered to be one of the deadliest natural disasters to have ever occurred; killing about 300,000 people.
Disasters occur often and people should be prepared for anything and everything to happen at any moment. They should be aware of their geographical area and be knowledgeable and prepared for disasters that could potentially affect them. In Utah, where there are extreme seasons, a dry climate, and masses of people in one area, people are at risk for earthquakes, wildfires, avalanches, floods, gas leak/explosions, drought and epidemics.
Disasters are nearly impossible to predict so being prepared for anything to happen at any given time is essential for survival.
Currently the world, including the United States and Utah, is being heavily affected by a disease caused by a virus called the coronavirus. Diseases are a result of an infection by a pathogen ability to cause disease- organism and when a particular disease is common within a specific region, within a specific population, Intermountain Healthcare defines it as an endemic.
When there is a greater-than anticipated number of cases of an endemic it is considered to be an outbreak. If an outbreak cannot be contained and affects a large number of people within community, region, or population, it is considered to be an epidemic. If the disease continues to spread over multiple countries or continents, it is then considered a pandemic. The coronavirus has spread to multiple countries and continents and is affecting millions of people, which allows it to be considered a pandemic.
Epidemics and pandemics are hard to prepare for because there are so many different types of microorganisms that can cause infections and diseases. A microorganism is an organism that is too small to see with the naked eye. They can be infectious and cause diseases which can then be transmitted from person to person. The most common types of microorganisms are: viruses, bacteria, and fungi. A virus is a tiny microorganism that can only live and multiply inside a host. A bacterium is unicellular – only consisting of one cell – and can live nearly everywhere. Fungi are larger, plant-like organisms that produce spores – very hard to kill units that allow the fungi to reproduce. Most microorganisms are not infectious and do not cause disease, but sometimes they do.
Our bodies have a defense mechanism for when a microorganism that isn’t supposed to be in our bodies finds a way in; called our immune system. Our immune system recognizes organisms that aren’t supposed to be there or that are causing disease, and work to kill it. It also creates special cells to remember pathogenic organisms which allow us to fend off the microorganism, if we come into contact with it again. Our immune system is amazing but sometimes the microorganism is just too strong. When this happens, we get sick and can show signs and symptoms of a disease – fever, pain, swelling, jaundice, nausea, etc. Diseases are spread the easiest when a person is showing signs and symptoms. It is important to stay out of contact with other people and keep yourself and your surroundings clean if you are feeling sick. Epidemics and pandemics are caused by the spread of a disease from one person to another when people are not being careful when they are sick.
Because you cannot see microorganisms to avoid them, it is hard to be prepared for an epidemic or pandemic, but there are still ways. Before a pandemic, Ready.gov advises that people store additional food and water, check prescription drugs and ensure they have a continuous supply in their home, have nonprescription drugs and other health supplies on hand, and talk with family members about what to do if there is a pandemic. In the case that there is a pandemic, ready.gov advises people to do the following: avoid close contact with people who are sick, keep your distance from others if you are sick, cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, wash your hands often, avoid touching eyes, nose, or mouth, and practice good health habits like get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious foods.
Currently, with the pandemic that is affecting people now, it is essential that people follow these guidelines in order to limit the spread and keep themselves and others safe. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) is advising everyone to stay at home and only go out if necessary. All unnecessary stores, shops, and activities are closed and people are not allowed to organize in groups of more than 10 people. The coronavirus has killed over 100,000 people so far which would, by definition, make it a disaster.
Though the coronavirus pandemic was sudden and natural, some microorganisms can be used intentionally as a weapon to wreak havoc. This is commonly known as bioterrorism. Bioterrorism can be defined as using biological agents to perform terrorist attacks. Viruses, bacteria, and fungi can all be used as the biological agents in a bioterrorist attack. According to V. Barras and G. Greub in their article titled: “History of Biological Warfare and Bioterrorism”, bioterrorism dates back all the way to 14 B.C. where Hittites sent infected rams to his enemies. The plague has been used a handful of times in Biological Warfare and was among the deadliest attacks.
In 1348 it is believed that the Mongols catapulted diseased cadavers into the besieged city of Crimea. The rats and fleas that were fleeing the city brought the disease to the Mediterranean ports. It is estimated that the plague killed over 25 million people. But that wasn’t the end of it; in 1710 Russian armies, inspired by the Mongols, catapulted plague infected cadavers over the Swedish troops in Estonia. The plague wasn’t the only diseased used in bioterrorism though, in 1763 British officers distributed blankets from smallpox hospitals to the Native Americans. Smallpox disease was also used by the Confederates in 1863 by selling clothing from yellow fever and smallpox patients to Union troops during the American Civil War (V. Barras and G. Greub 15).
Bioterrorism is still a threat today. In Medical News Today’s article titled: “Bioterrorism: Should we be worried?”, the biological agents that are most likely be used in a bioterrorist attack today are: anthrax, smallpox, plague, cholera, and tularemia. Biological weapons can be difficult to control or predict in a battlefield situation, since there is a substantial risk that troops on both sides will be affected. However, if a terrorist is interested in attacking a distant target, bioterrorism carries much less risk to the person.
Bioterrorism is a real threat just as naturally occurring epidemics and pandemics are. People must prepare themselves and their families for the possibility of these disasters strike. Know where your help lines are, know how to keep yourself safe, and know what you can do to help others in times of need.