This page is an archive of Ready.gov from July 2006. (back to analysis)
If There is a Biological Threat
- Click here to view and download the Biological Threat Visual Guide.
If you become aware of an unusual and suspicious release of an unknown substance nearby, it doesn't hurt to protect yourself. Be prepared to improvise to protect your nose, mouth, eyes and cuts in your skin.
- Cover your mouth and nose with layers of fabric that can filter the air but still allow breathing. For example, 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.
Cover Your Nose and Mouth
Be prepared to improvise with what you have on hand to protect your nose, mouth, eyes and cuts in your skin. Anything that fits snugly over your nose and mouth, including any dense-weave cotton material, can help filter contaminants in an emergency. It is very important that most of the air you breathe comes through the mask or cloth, not around it. Do whatever you can to make the best fit possible for children. There are also a variety of face masks readily available in hardware stores that are rated based on how small a particle they can filter in an industrial setting. Simple cloth face masks can filter some of the airborne "junk" or germs you might breathe into your body, but will probably not protect you from chemical gases. Still, something over your nose and mouth in an emergency is better than nothing.
While antibiotics are often an appropriate treatment for the diseases associated with biological weapons, the specific drug must match the illness to be effective. One antibiotic, for example, may be appropriate for treating anthrax exposure, but is inappropriate for treating smallpox. All antibiotics can cause side effects including serious reactions. Plan to speak with your health care provider in advance about what makes sense for your family.
Use Common Sense
At the time of a declared biological emergency, if a family member becomes sick, it is important to be suspicious. Do not automatically assume, however, that you should go to an 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.
- Stay healthy. Eat well. Get plenty of rest.
- Use common sense to determine if there is immediate danger.
- Wash your hands with soap and water frequently.
- In a declared biological emergency or developing epidemic, there may be reason to stay away from crowds where others may be infected.
- There may be times when you would want to consider wearing a face mask to reduce spreading germs if you yourself are sick, or to avoid coming in contact with contagious germs if others around you are sick.