The Islamic State (ISIS) may be thinking of using human carriers to infect its enemies with the Ebola virus, a national security expert claims, saying terror groups would not have to weaponize the deadly virus to spread the disease.
"In the context of terrorist activity, it doesn't take much sophistication to go that next step to use a human being as a carrier," Retired Capt. Al Shimkus, a professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College, told Forbes
Shimkus said the "individual exposed to the Ebola virus would be the carrier," and with West Africa in an open epidemic, it would not be difficult for terrorists to steal infected bodily fluids to use elsewhere.
Shimkus said that ISIS or another terror group could also send some operatives into an outbreak region so they could intentionally expose themselves to the virus, and once exposed, they could head to a target city or country.
Troops have been using human carriers to spread disease for centuries, even during the Middle Ages, said Shimkus, when they threw corpses of people who had died of the bubonic plague over enemy walls to spread the disease.
He admitted that with Ebola, infected people could be identified before they leave a country, and he admits that he does not think the virus would spread quickly in advanced nations like the United States because their healthcare systems are better equipped to isolate and stop the virus from spreading.
Shimkus is not alone in believing Ebola could be used as a weapon, Forbes reports.
Amanda Teckman, who wrote the paper "The Bioterrorist Threat of Ebola in East Africa and Implications for Global Health and Security" says "the threat of an Ebola bioterrorist attack in East Africa is a global health and security concern, and should not be ignored."
Teckman, who holds a master's degree in diplomacy and international relations from Seton Hall University in New Jersey, told Forbes that the Islamic State, however, does not need to go to the extreme of using Ebola to get the West's attention. Its other actions, including beheadings, are proving to be enough.
"But just because this is not probable for ISIS, I do believe others will at least contemplate using such suicide infectors," Teckman said.
But Nicholas G. Evans, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania who specializes in biosecurity, bioterrorism, and the ethics of pandemic disease, writes in a column for Slate
on Friday that the Ebola virus is not a "viable bioweapon candidate."
It does not spread quickly, said Evans, as each infected person infects just two more people, and because Ebola is only infectious when symptoms are shown, "we’ve got plenty of chances to clamp down on an outbreak in a country with a developed public health system."
Further, Ebola is only spread by bodily fluids, which "don’t make efficient or stealthy weapons," Evans said, and the idea of "suicide sneezers" is too far-fetched to take seriously.
"That’s a losing game for the terrorist," Evans said. "Someone with Ebola isn’t infectious until she has symptoms, and even then, there is often only a small window for action before the disease takes hold. A terrorist who wants to infect others isn’t likely to be functional enough to run around spreading the disease for very long — and even then, will find it hard to transmit the virus."
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