Important Topics: Biological Disasters - Causes and Way Forward


Biological DisasterBiological disaster is defined as, “the devastating effects caused by an enormous spread of a certain kind of living organism that may spread a disease, viruses or infestation of plant, animal or insect life on an epidemic or pandemic level”.

(a) Epidemic Level: Biological disaster affects large numbers of people within a given community or area. Ex: Cholera.

(b) Pandemic Level: Biological disaster effect a much large region, sometime spanning entire continents or the globe Ex: Swine Flu.

Biological hazards, also known as biohazards, refers to biological substance or organic matters produced by parasites, viruses, bacteria, fungi and protein that pose a threat to the health of living organisms, primarily that of humans.


  • The biohazard symbol was developed in 1966 by Charles Baldwin.
  • In Unicode, the biohazard symbol is U+2623.
  • Ministry of Health and Family Welfare is the nodal ministry for handling epidemics, decision making, advisory body and emergency Medical Relief provider.
  • Health being the state subject, the primary responsibility of dealing with biological disasters rests with the state government.
  • The National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) is the nodal agency for investigating outbreaks.
  • Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) is the nodal ministry for Biological Warfare (use of biological agents as an act of war). MHA is also responsible for assessing threat perceptions, setting up of deterrent mechanisms and providing intelligence inputs.
  • The United States Center for Disease Control (CDC) categories biological hazards that could potentially cause a biological disaster, into four bio-safety levels or BSL 1-4.

1. BSL-1: Bacteria and Viruses including Bacillus subtilis, canine hepatitis, some cell cultures and non-infections bacteria. Protection is minimal at this level involving gloves and facial protection.

2. BSL-2: Bacteria and viruses that cause only mild disease to humans, or are difficult to contract via aerosol in lab setting such as hepatitis A, B, C, mumps, measles, HIV etc. Precaution is little extreme with use of autoclaves for sterilizing and biological safety cabinets.

3. BSL-3: Bacteria and viruses that can cause severe to fatal disease in humans such as anthrax, west Nile Virus, MERS coronavirus. Precaution is much more stringent safety protocols including the use of respirators to prevent airborne infection.

4. BSL-4: Viruses that are potentially fatal to humans for which there is no known treatment or vaccine such as Marburg virus, Ebola virus, Lassa fever virus etc. Protective measures include the use of a positive pressure personnel suit, with a segregated air supply.


There are a number of legislations that control and govern the nation's health policies, which government can enforce when needed.
1. The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974.
2. The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981.
3. The Environmental (Protection) Act, 1986 and the Rules (1986). This act also provides for the Biomedical Waste.
4. Disaster Management Act (DM Act)-2005: Provides for an institutional and operational framework at all levels for disaster prevention, mitigation, preparedness, response & recovery.

Occupations/Workplace Where People May Come Into Contacts With Biological Hazards

  • Medical staff, cleaning staff and laboratory technicians in the medical profession.
  • Employees in environmental hygiene services such as liquid waste and rubbish collection and disposal.
  • Agriculture, fishery, veterinary services and manufacturing industries that use plant or animal based raw materials.
  • Indoor workplaces in enclosed areas with central air conditioning like hotels and restaurants.

Preventive And Control Measures At Work Place

Elimination of the source of contamination is fundamental to the prevention and control of biological hazards. Before some preventive measures are discussed below:
1. Engineering Controls to help contain the spread of biohazard, improvements of ventilation, installation of negative pressure and use of UV lamps can be done.
2. Personal Hygiene like washing hands before and after work or before and after wearing protective clothing with liquid soap.
3. Personal Protection Equipments include masks, gloves, protective clothing, eye shield, face shield, and shoe covers.
4. Sterilization: The process includes using ultra heat or high pressure to eliminate bacteria or using biocide to eliminate microorganisms.
5. Respiratory Protection includes surgical masks, N95 or higher level respirators, Powered Air Purifying Respirator (PAPR), Air-supplying respirators.

Prevention of Biological Disasters

The important means for prevention of biological disaster include the following:
1. Environmental Management

  • Safe Water supply and proper maintenance of sewage pipeline will go a long way in the prevention of biological disasters and epidemics of waterborne origin such as cholera, hepatitis, diarrhea and dysentery.
  • Personal hygiene Necessary awareness will be created in the community about the importance of personal hygiene, and measures to achieve this, including provision of washing, cleaning and bathing facilities, and avoiding overcrowding in sleeping quarters, etc.
  • Vector Control - The important components of vector control programmes are:

a) Environmental engineering work and generic integrated vector control measures.
b) Elimination of breeding places by water management, draining of stagnant pools and not allowing water to collect.
c) Outdoor fogging and control of vectors by regular spraying of insecticides.
d) Keeping a watch on the rodent population.

Prevention of Post-disaster Epidemics: The risk of epidemics is higher after any type of disaster, whether natural or manmade. Preventive measures will be taken to deal with such eventualities. Integrated Disease Surveillance Systems will monitor the probable sources, modes of spread, and investigate the epidemics.

Detection And Containment of outbreak would entail four basic steps:
a) Recognition and diagnosis by primary health care practitioners.
b) Communication of surveillance information to public health authorities
c) Epidemiological analysis of the surveillance data
d) Delivery of appropriate medical treatment and public health measures

  • Biosafety and Biosecurity - There must be a system for inventory control in the laboratories dealing with bacteria, viruses or toxins which can be a source of potential causative agents for biological disasters.
  • Buildings and Offices Protection of important buildings against biological agents wherever deemed necessary, can be done by preventing and restricting entry to authorised personnel only by proper screening. Installing HEPA filters in the ventilation systems of the air conditioning facilities will prevent infectious microbes from entering the air circulating inside critical buildings. The post-exposure approach will include effective decontamination and safety procedures.

Conclusion: Biological hazards can kill or they may cause discomfort and affect the health and performance of employees/general public at the very least. Therefore we have to be vigilant in preventing and controlling biological hazards to make the environment a safer & healthier place.


Biological disasters or biohazards can cause devastating effects in society and environment making 'generations of a nation', vulnerable to it. Discuss about the causes and prevention for biological hazards.


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