Overview of Biological Agents that could be used in a Terrorist Act

Several biological agents could potentially be used in a bioterrorist act.

Page last updated: 04 August 2015

They include bacterial or viral agents and toxins which pose a danger because of their ease of transmission and/or severity of illness they cause. They have the potential to have a major impact on public health and require preparedness to reduce the consequences of any deliberate release.

Health authorities will notify medical practitioners if an increased threat from a biological agent develops. This will assist in preparing medical practitioners to detect and treat diseases that are normally very rare in Australia.

The most serious bioterrorism threats are posed by infectious agents that cause severe disease, including smallpox, anthrax, plague, tularaemia, viral haemorrhagic fevers (Ebola, Lassa and Marburg viruses) and also botulinum toxin. These cause acute and severe disease, but in the early stages immediately after exposure, symptoms may be difficult to distinguish from more common illnesses. Concern that a person may be suffering from a disease caused by a bioterrorism agent would be heightened by evidence of an attack elsewhere or a credible terrorist threat.

The last naturally acquired case of smallpox worldwide occurred in 1977. Plague, viral haemorrhagic fevers and tularaemia do not occur naturally in Australia. Distinguishing bioterrorism agents from more common illnesses is likely to need assistance from infectious diseases laboratories and other experts.

The Department of Health has produced fact sheets and clinical guidelines for managing a smallpox or anthrax outbreak:

Clinical information about a range of biological agents is also available from various websites, including:

Security Sensitive Biological Agent Regulation


The Department of Health administers a regulatory scheme for security sensitive biological agents in support of the National Health Security Act 2007. Further information about the government's regulatory scheme for security sensitive biological agents.
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