Workshop to evaluate threat of insect-based terrorism

Published 17 May 2010

One way terrorists may use unleash a bioterror attack on U.S. population centers is by introducing pathogen-infected mosquitoes into an area, then let the insects pursue their deadly mission; many of the world’s most dangerous pathogens — Rift Valley, chikungunya fever, or Japanese encephalitis — already are transmitted by arthropods, the animal phylum that includes mosquitoes

A workshop at the University of Florida on 20-22 May will look at the possibility of an unusual but potentially massive form of insect-based terrorism that could be launched in Florida. This workshop, titled “Counteracting Bioterrorist Introduction of Pathogen-Infected Vector Mosquitoes,” deals with the use of pathogen-laced mosquitoes to spread a deadly disease.

Former Governor and senator Bob Graham, co-author of the study “World at Risk,” will give the plenary address at the event, discussing the overall bioterrorism threat. Attendance at the workshop itself is by invitation only, but the public is invited to attend Graham’s address at 7 p.m., 20 May in Pugh Hall’s MacKay Auditorium, Room 170.

How real is the threat? Many of the world’s most dangerous pathogens already are transmitted by arthropods, the animal phylum that includes mosquitoes. So far the United States has not been exposed to a large-scale spread of vector-borne diseases like Rift Valley, chikungunya fever, or Japanese encephalitis. But terrorists with a cursory knowledge of science could potentially release insects carrying these diseases in a state with a tropical climate like Florida’s, according to several experts who will speak at the workshop.

Co-sponsored by UF’s Emerging Pathogens Institute, the Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory, and the USDA Center for Medical, Agricultural and Veterinary Entomology, the two-day workshop will bring together experts from a wide variety of disciplines at the state and national level to assess the threat of using mosquitoes as weapons and the preparations the state could take to stave off such an attack.

Currently, there is no organized plan at any governmental level to develop the resources for mosquito control that would prevent such an attack.

Graham’s plenary address will also be streamed live on 20 May at