A biological weapon is a weapon that delivers toxins or pathogens (like bacteria or viruses), with the goal of making people sick or killing them. Biological weapons are also called bio-weapons. Their use in war is called biological warfare.
Parts of a biological weapon[change | change source]
A biological weapon usually has two parts. The first is the biological agent (also called a bio-agent, biological threat agent, or biological warfare agent). This is the pathogen that is meant to make people sick. The second is the delivery system - how the biological agent is going to get to and expose the people it is supposed to infect.
Some bio-agents can be "weaponized" - changed to make them more dangerous. For example, sometimes scientists can change a pathogen's genes so the pathogen is deadlier, and so it will not be killed by usual antidotes or treatments. Some bio-agents can be changed so they are easier to store, spread, or use as weapons.
As of 2016, there are more than 1,200 different kinds of bio-agents that could be made into weapons.
Examples of biological agents[change | change source]
Examples of some biological agents and toxins are listed below. Experts have said that these pathogens could be used as biological weapons. A few already have been used, including anthrax, bubonic plague, smallpox, and ricin.
Bacterial agents[change | change source]
|Bacillus anthraces||Anthrax||Was weaponized by the U.S., Soviet Union, and Iraqp.26|
|Brucella species||Brucellosis||Brucella suis was the first bio-agent weaponized by the U.S., in 1954;
Brucella species easily survive in aerosol form
|Yersinia pestis||Bubonic or pneumonic plague||Killed 60% of Europe's population in the 1300s.
Pneumonic plague is fatal if antibiotics are not given within 1 day after symptoms startp.55
Weaponized by U.S. and Soviet Union during the Cold War
|Vibrio cholerae||Cholera||Could be spread by contaminating water supplies|
Some species of Escherichia coli
|Dysentery||Could be spread by contaminating food suppliesp.212|
|Coxiella burnetii||Q fever||Number of bacteria needed to infect a person is one - the lowest known to manp.67
Can live on surfaces for 60 days, in aerosols, and in many temperatures
Weaponized by U.S. between 1942-1969
|Francisella tularensis||Tularemia||Very contagious; bacteria are very easy to get because they occur in nature;
Weaponized by U.S. between 1942-1969
|Rickettsia prowazekii||Typhus||High mortality rate if untreated; can be spread by aerosolp.169|
|Staphylococcus aureus||Many||Could be spread by contaminating food supplies or by aerosol
Some strains (like MRSA) are resistant to antibiotics
Viral agents[change | change source]
|Alphaviruses||Many||Can cause many forms of viral encephalitis; very low dose needed
for infection. Easily spread by aerosol.p.96
|Filoviridae and Arenaviridae viruses||Many||Cause viral hemorrhagic fevers, like Ebola virus and Lassa fever
Can be spread by aerosol; very high mortality ratesp.107
|Variola major||Smallpox||Very contagious, easily spread through air, mortality rate 20-40%
Eradicated in 1970s, but laboratories still have samples
Biological toxins[change | change source]
|Toxin||Toxin Comes From:||Toxin Causes:||Comments|
|Botulinum||Clostridium botulinum||Botulism||One of the deadliest toxins known to exist;
Weaponized by U.S. between 1942-1969p.122
|Ricin||Castor oil plant||Ricin poisoning||Can be made at home; very toxic by any route of exposure|
Examples of delivery systems[change | change source]
In the past, countries have designed many different delivery systems for exposing people to biological agents. These systems have included:
- Bombs, missiles, hand grenades, and rockets, with the biological agent inside
- Tanks that could spray bio-agents from airplanes, cars, trucks, and boats
- Aerosol sprayers
- Brushes to contaminate surfaces with bio-agents
- Ways of contaminating food and clothing
Examples of biological weapons[change | change source]
A biological agent by itself is not enough to make a biological weapon. Neither is a delivery system by itself. A biological weapon has to have both: the bio-agent that is meant to make people sick, and a system to deliver that agent.
Here are a few examples of biological weapons that have been used throughout history.
|Year||Bio-Agent||Delivery System||Used By|
|1346||Yersinia pests (plague)||Corpses of bubonic plague victims||Tartar army to attack Crimea|
|1763||Variola major (smallpox)||Blankets from smallpox victims||British soldiers to attack Native Americans|
|1940s||Yersinia pests (plague)||Plague-infected ticks dropped from airplanes||Japan to attack China during World War IIp.56|
|1941||Vibrio cholerae (cholera)||Contaminated food & water||Japan to attack China|
|2001||Bacillus anthraces (anthrax)||Mailed letters||Terrorists to attack U.S. politicians and news stations|
|2013||Ricin||Mailed letters||Terrorists to attack U.S. President Obama and a U.S. Senator|
Related pages[change | change source]
References[change | change source]
- "Introduction to Biological Weapons". FAS.org. Federation of American Scientists. 2007. https://fas.org/biosecurity/resource/bioweapons.htm. Retrieved February 7, 2016.
- "What Are Biological and Toxin Weapons?". The United Nations Office at Geneva. The United Nations. http://www.unog.ch/80256EE600585943/(httpPages)/29B727532FECBE96C12571860035A6DB?OpenDocument. Retrieved February 8, 2016.
- "Biological Agents". United States Department of Labor: OSHA. http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/biologicalagents/index.html. Retrieved 2012-05-31.
- Mistovich, Joseph J.; Karren, Keith J.; Hafen, Brent (July 18, 2013). Prehospital Emergency Care (10th ed.). Prentice Hall. ISBN 978-0133369137.
- "Select Agents and Toxins List". Federal Select Agent Program. United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. September 10, 2013. http://www.selectagents.gov/SelectAgentsandToxinsList.html. Retrieved February 9, 2016.
- Dembek, Zygmunt F. (ed.) (September 2011). USAMRIID’s Medical Management of Biological Casualties Handbook (7th ed.). Fort Detrick, Maryland: U.S. Army Medical Institute of Infectious Diseases. ISBN 978-0-16-090015-0. http://www.usamriid.army.mil/education/bluebookpdf/USAMRIID%20BlueBook%207th%20Edition%20-%20Sep%202011.pdf. Retrieved February 9, 2016.
- "Frequently asked questions regarding the deliberate use of biological agents and chemicals as weapons". WHO.int. World Health Organization. 2016. http://www.who.int/csr/delibepidemics/faqbioagents/en/. Retrieved February 8, 2016.
- "Plague: History". Division of Vector-Borne Diseases. United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. September 14, 2015. http://www.cdc.gov/plague/history/. Retrieved February 9, 2016.
- Weintraub, Pamela (2002). Bio-Terrorism. Citadel Press. p. 51. ISBN 978-0806523989.
- Lutwick, Larry I.; Lutwick, Suzanne M. (December 15, 2008). Beyond Anthrax: The Weaponization of Infectious Diseases. Springer Science and Business Media. ISBN 9781597453264.
- "CDC Q Fever - Emergency Preparedness and Response". http://emergency.cdc.gov/agent/qfever/.
- Textbooks of Military Medicine: Military Preventive Medicine. Government Printing Office. 2003. p. 645. ISBN 978-0160873119.
- "MRSA Infection". Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. September 9, 2015. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/mrsa/basics/definition/con-20024479. Retrieved February 9, 2016.
- Inglesby TV, Henderson DA, et al. 1999. "Consensus Statement: Smallpox as a Biological Weapon: Medical and Public Health Management". Journal of the American Medical Association (American Medical Association) 281 (22): 2127-2137. doi:10.1001/jama.281.22.2127.
- Shea, Dana A; Gottron, Frank (April 17, 2013) Ricin: Technical Background and Potential Role in Terrorism . Congressional Research Service. Report. Retrieved on February 9, 2016.
- "Amerithrax or Anthrax Investigation". FBI.gov. Federal Bureau of Investigation. https://www.fbi.gov/about-us/history/famous-cases/anthrax-amerithrax/amerithrax-investigation. Retrieved February 8, 2016.