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Potential Threats of Bioterrorism

Since 2001, the government and the media have periodically alerted the American people to potential threats of bioterrorism. //

Now, a team of researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University has found that such messages measurably raise anxiety levels, which could pose adverse health effects.

In their findings reported in the current issue of the International Quarterly of Community Health Education, the researchers suggest that a comprehensive independent review of such messages is long overdue.

“Unlike public health messages that portray dire scenarios to try to scare people into quitting smoking or using seatbelts, similar bioterrorism scenarios do not lead to any measurable beneficial behavior change,” notes senior author Dr. Hillel Cohen, associate professor of epidemiology and population health at Einstein.

He adds, “Public health programs, which these alerts fall under, and other health interventions are typically evaluated by weighing efficacy and safety. If a public health program can induce stress and anxiety in the population, these should be considered potentially adverse effects that need evaluation.”

Dr. Cohen and his collaborators from the Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology, also of Yeshiva University, conducted their study with volunteers recruited from students enrolled at both Einstein and Ferkauf. Potential participants were asked if they would participate in a research study involving the perception of a public health message and its relation to anxiety.

The 116 participants (26 men and 90 women) randomly received one of two messages: either a potent bioterrorism message portraying a graphic account of a horrific case of bioterrorism, or a message more neutral in tone that presented bioterrorism as a risk that was minor relative to other public health challenges. Those receiving the more potent message became the “experimental” group, while tho
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