Hazards: Biological (CBRN)


CBRN icon

A biological attack is the deliberate release of germs or other biological substances that can make you sick. The three basic groups of biological agents that would likely be used as weapons are bacteria, viruses and toxins.

Many agents must be inhaled, enter through a cut in the skin or be eaten to make you sick. Some biological agents, such as anthrax, do not cause contagious diseases. Others, like the smallpox virus, can result in diseases you can catch from other people.

More information on Chemical, Biological, Radiation and Nuclear (CBRN) hazards.

What to Do

If you become aware of an unusual and suspicious substance nearby:

  • Quickly get away.
  • Protect yourself. Cover your mouth and nose with layers of fabric that can filter the air but still allow breathing. Examples include two to three layers of cotton such as a t-shirt, handkerchief or towel. Otherwise, several layers of tissue or paper towels may help.
  • Wash with soap and water.
  • Contact authorities.
  • Watch TV, listen to the radio, or check the Internet for official news and information including what the signs and symptoms of the disease are, if medications or vaccinations are being distributed and where you should seek medical attention if you become sick.

If you become sick seek emergency medical attention.

During a declared biological emergency, if a family member becomes sick, it is important to be suspicious.

  • Do not assume, however, that you should go to a hospital emergency room or that any illness is the result of the biological attack. Symptoms of many common illnesses may overlap.
  • Use common sense, practice good hygiene and cleanliness to avoid spreading germs, and seek medical advice.
  • Consider if you are in the group or area authorities believe to be in danger.
  • If your symptoms match those described and you are in the group considered at risk, immediately seek emergency medical attention.

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.

Unlike an explosion, a biological attack may or may not be immediately obvious. While it is possible that you will see signs of a biological attack, as was sometimes the case with the anthrax mailings, it is perhaps more likely that local health care workers will report a pattern of unusual illness or there will be a wave of sick people seeking emergency medical attention.

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 exactly what the illness is, how it should be treated, and who is in danger. However, you should watch TV, listen to the radio, or check the Internet for official news.


Related Information



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