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Book and Media Reviews
August 15, 2012

Terrorism and Public Health: A Balanced Approach to Strengthening Systems and Protecting People

Author Affiliations

Book and Media Reviews Section Editor: John L. Zeller, MD, PhD, Contributing Editor.

Author Affiliation: Center for Biosecurity, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (

JAMA. 2012;308(7):719. doi:10.1001/jama.308.7.719-a

Because of the crucial role public health agencies will play in the event of a bioattack, they have become important national security assets. To some observers, this represents a shift in public health away from traditional functions, prompting the advocacy of a balanced approach to public health in which national security concerns do not jeopardize the broader goals of public health.

Terrorism and Public Health is written in that vein. Edited by 2 former presidents of the American Public Health Association, the second edition of Terrorism and Public Health comprises 20 chapters written by subject matter experts. The book is divided into 6 sections that include chapters addressing public health responses to terrorist acts, specific weapons used by terrorists, and emergency planning. Overall, the book provides a wide overview of the issues confronting public health agencies with respect to their national security role. However, the book has a specific ideological slant that permeates nearly every page. For example, the opening chapter includes a familiar table that compares the number of deaths attributable to bioterrorism in the modern era with those attributable to other causes—a shorthand way of dismissing the importance of bioterrorism.