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Br J Psychiatry. 2003 Dec;183:491-7.

Biochemical terrorism: too awful to contemplate, too serious to ignore: subjective literature review.

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University Medical School, University of Aberdeen, UK.



It is important not to foster unnecessary public anxiety with regard to the risk of a biochemical terrorist incident, but the authorities need to consider their response strategy, particularly with regard to mental health issues.


To describe the likely effects of a terrorist incident involving biochemical agents and to identify important response issues.


Literature survey.


Observations following conventional terrorist incidents and other major trauma, including biochemical and nuclear accidents, suggest that a biochemical terrorist incident would have widespread public effects. The mental health services should play a major role in designing an effective multi-disciplinary response, particularly with regard to the reduction of public anxiety, identifying at-risk individuals and collaborating with medical and emergency services, as well as providing care for those who develop post-traumatic psychopathology.


We should not feel helpless in the face of a biochemical threat; there is considerable knowledge and experience to be tapped. A well-designed, well-coordinated and rehearsed strategy based on empirical evidence will do much to reduce public anxiety and increase professional confidence.

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