Microbiologist says U.S. unprepared for bioterrorism

“I can tell you that the threat [of bioterrorism] is real, but I can’t tell you how scared you should be,” microbiologist William J. Murray told a nearly packed Laxson Auditorium at a Feb. 28 seminar.

Murray, who teaches at San Jose and Santa Clara state universities, was the “special guest” at the event hosted by Chico State University’s Center for Applied and Professional Ethics (CAPE).

Titled “Responding Ethically to Bio-Terrorism,” the seminar focused on the changes in beliefs and procedures that the nation has to make in light of what Murray called the “growing concern of bioterrorism.”

Murray contends that globalization has exposed the United States to countries that hate us and that we as a nation have a hard time believing that anyone could hate us enough to, as Murray put it, “kill us and our children and keep doing it.”

Murray has also expressed concern about how unprepared public health departments and politicans are. With only 10,000 ventilators in the United States, Murray begged the question: “Who here would take a ventilator from [someone else] to save themselves or a family member?”

He said the unpredictability of potential biological weapons, like the diseases of anthrax, botulism and smallpox, makes them “tailor-made for terrorism.”

Politicans need to be more informed, said Murray, who observed that during the country’s anthrax scare, politicians seemed to “tuck tail and run.”

“[The] general public are the ones that need to put pressure on our politicians,” he said.

He predicts a time when “laypeople” may be relied upon to care for others in a state of national emergency and insists that we have to be prepared for such a time.

Murray’s specific area of expertise is in exotic animal parasites. Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, he has been speaking frequently to universities, political bodies and the Centers for Disease Control about this topic.