Print this PageSite Feedback
Bioterrorism & chemicals
Biological agents are organisms or toxins that have illness-producing effects on people, livestock and crops. Because biological agents cannot necessarily be detected and may take time to grow and cause a disease, it is almost impossible to know that a biological attack has occurred.  

A bioterrorism attack is the deliberate release of viruses, bacteria or other germs (agents) used to cause illness or death in people, animals or plants. These agents are typically found in nature, but it is possible that they could be changed to increase their ability to cause disease, make them resistant to current medicines or to increase their ability to be spread into the environment. Biological agents can be spread through the air, through water or in food.

If governmental officials become aware of a biological attack through an informant or warning by terrorists, they would most likely instruct citizens to either seek shelter where they are and seal the premises or evacuate immediately. 

If you suspect bioterrorism, call 911 immediately, or contact the Mecklenburg County Health Department at 704-336-2817.


Chemical agents are poisonous gasses, liquids, or solids that have toxic effect on people, animals or plants. Most chemical agents cause serious injuries or death. Severity of injuries depend on the type and amount of the chemical agent being used, and the duration of exposure.


When a chemical attack to occurs, authorities instruct citizens to either seek shelter where they are and seal the premises or evacuate immediately. Exposure to chemical agents can be fatal. Leaving the shelter to rescue or assist victims can be a deadly decision. There is no assistance that the untrained can offer that would likely be of any value to the victims of chemical agents.

A person infected by a biological agent requires the immediate attention of professional medial personnel.  Some agents are contagious, and victims may need to be quarantined. Also, some medical facilities may not receive victims for fear of contaminating the hospital population.

Be Prepared

In addition to the items you will find on this site, the Mecklenburg County Health Department has prepared information that can assist in helping you and your family be prepared for a biological agent, biohazard or act of bioterrorism.

Questions and Answers about Chemical and Biological Agents

Question: What should I do to protect my family and myself if a dangerous chemical agent were released in my community?

Answer: Emergency Management teams would lead efforts in the event of a chemical attack and would let you know if you need to evacuate the area or seek some type of shelter.

Question: Should I purchase a gas mask as protection from any chemical agent release such as anthrax?

Answer: No. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) does not recommend purchasing gas masks. The likelihood that you would be involved in a chemical attack is low, and your protection is the responsibility of state and Federal law enforcement officials. They are on high alert to ensure that such an event does not happen. In addition, the CDC believes that purchasing a gas mask causes a false sense of security and can do more harm than good. Masks that aren't used properly or that does not fit well will not give you adequate protection.

Only specially trained personnel can distinguish between a real bio terrorism attack and a false one. If you suspect that a package, letter, or anything else contains a harmful biological agent, call 911.