In the aftermath of the World Trade Center attack on September 11, 2001, there have been several bioterrorism attacks in the continental United States, only the second time this particular breed of terrorism has occurred on U.S. soil and the first time on such a widespread scale (in 1984, a salad bar in a small town in Oregon was infected with salmonella to influence a local election). Doses of anthrax have been mailed to many large U.S. corporations (NBC, ABC, and Microsoft), as well as to Tom Daschle, a political leader here in the United States.
As a result of these attacks, many people are rightly concerned about the possibilities of bioterrorism and are concerned about what they can do to protect themselves and their loved ones from the impact of such an attack. After reading about many techniques and methods of bioterrorism and how to combat these methods, I've assembled a guide of a few simple things that we can all do to help protect ourselves without significantly changing our style of living.
Get vaccinated. If you are even remotely in doubt that you are properly vaccinated against diseases that have publicly available vaccines, visit your doctor immediately. Diseases that could easily be spread by bioterrorist techniques for which there are vaccines include rubella, measles, mumps, smallpox, influenza, and, yes, anthrax. The latter three are particularly noteworthy because of their ease of transmission and their potential deadliness; most people are already caught up on the first three whether they know it or not. Make an appointment with your doctor if you don't think you are properly vaccinated. I should note, however, that many of these vaccines, particularly anthrax, have significant side effects; discuss them with your doctor carefully and only take the vaccine if you are seriously at risk.
Handle all mail carefully and suspicious mail very carefully. I recommend buying a package of rubber gloves just in case you receive some unusual mail; I already have a box. If you receive unfamiliar mail, be very careful with it, even if it seems innocuous. Remember, the letter to Tom Daschle was printed and had the return address of a fourth grade class; terrorists have demonstrated that they are unafraid to use such tactics. Buy a box of latex gloves and hide them in the cupboard, out of sight, but there if you need them.
Wash your hands regularly. Hands pick up germs and bacteria all the time. Every time you open a door or touch something, germs and bacteria are transmitted to your hands. A good solution is to wash your hands regularly with regular soap and once or twice a day with antibacterial soap. Don't use antibacterial soap every time; overuse of that type of soap can somewhat weaken your immune system because your body no longer fights off some potential intruders brought to your body by your hands. Antibacterial soap kills normal, innocuous bacteria that actually help you by keeping your immune system fit.
Eat healthy and take vitamins. Maintaining a properly balanced diet with the nutrition that your body needs means that your immune system will be in tip-top shape, ready to fight off any diseases that you might contract. Taking a daily multivitamin and hitting all of the food groups in a day will guarantee that your body gets the good things that it needs to keep you healthy.
Don't worry about it. This is perhaps the best thing that you can do. The likelihood that you will be infected due to such an attack is tiny, and with basic hygiene and a solid diet, you should be well prepared in the event that it would make you sick. Don't buy a gas mask or make a major purchase of this sort; owning a gas mask only serves as a constant reminder and a stress inducer and the chances that a gas mask might actually be of use is extremely slim. The best thing you can do to fight it off is to live your life as normally as you can and not be stressed about it, because stress itself is a significant illness.
The bottom line is this: bioterrorism seeks to cause terror. If we use basic techniques to protect ourselves without altering our daily lives, then bioterrorism fails utterly.