Sometimes known as "bioterrorism," these weapons involve infectious agents and toxins. These can include fungi, viruses and bacteria, and depending on their characteristics can kill human, animal and/or plant life.
The qualities that make them lethal and effective are the ones that make them unpredictable. We are talking about non-human, living organisms that are resilient and can be used as weapons, but are dangerously difficult to control. These organisms do not respect treaties or borders between countries, or for that matter continents.
Even ancient civilizations understood how effective biological warfare was to bring an enemy to their knees.
Five hundred years before the birth of Christ Assyrians contaminated their enemy's wells with rye ergot fungus. This fungus contains chemicals related to LSD. They knew it was inevitable that water would be ingested, and that it produced confused mental states, hallucinations and even death.
In the 1300s Mongol warriors known as Tartars assault the Crimean city of Kaffa. The Tartars turned their own misfortune into a weapon by flinging infected bodies of their own dead over the city walls. These warriors had died from the plague. Some researchers believe this might have spread to Europe killing over 25 million Europeans.
Genome sequencing though has found the origins of the Plague known as the Black Death started in China over 2000 years ago.
During WWII nations involved looked into developing anthrax spores, brucellosis and botulism toxins. Thankfully the Allies never used them. The Japanese though did drop ceramic bombs full of bubonic infected fleas on Ningbo, China.
The Japanese army poisoned more than 1,000 water wells in Chinese villages to study cholera and typhus outbreaks. [...] Some of the epidemics they caused persisted for years and continued to kill more than 30,000 people in 1947, long after the Japanese had surrendered.
Bioterrorism can be implemented with aerosol sprays, explosives or intentional contamination of food and water supplies.
Some pathogens are hardier than others, and this determines how it will be deployed.
Unfortunately this type of warfare holds an appeal for terrorists as it is low-tech to produce and distribute. Since there is a delay in contamination it allows the perpetrator time to escape.
In a battlefield scenario, military personnel from both sides can be infected.
Present day most experts believe that the organism that causes anthrax would be used in a bioterrorism attack. It is easily found in nature or can be produced in a laboratory. It is versatile in the ways it can be spread and it survives a long time in different environments.
In 2001 anthrax spores were sent through the postal system, five of twenty-two people infected died. The person who sent it was never caught.
Smallpox, unlike anthrax can be transmitted from one person another. Due to vaccination efforts it has mostly wiped out with the last case recorded in 1977.
The virus is still kept in two laboratories, one in the United States, the other in Russia.
Even though the Plague (Yersinia pestis) decimated human populations, hundreds of years ago, some believe that can still be used in modern germ warfare. It is transmitted via the bite of a flea that has fed on infected rodents. It can develop into bubonic plague, which is easily treated with antibiotics and difficult to transmit between humans, or if it spreads to the lungs, becoming pneumonic plague, it develops quickly and does not respond to antibiotics.
Given the presence and availability of plague around the world, the capacity for mass production and aerosol dissemination, the high fatality rate of pneumonic plague, and the potential for rapid secondary spread, the potential use of plague as a biological weapon is of great concern.
Cholera is a disease that causes deadly gastrointestinal complications in humans and would have to be added to major water sources in order to affect large amounts of the population.
Another deadly infectious disease is tularemia which only needs less than 10 organisms to enter the body before causing infection. It produces fever, ulcerations, swelling of the lymph glands and in some cases pneumonia. It is hardy, can stay active in decaying carcasses, moist soils, cold water and hay for many weeks. Symptoms would show up 3 to 5 days after infection and without antibiotic treatment it can lead quickly to respiratory failure and death.
These are only a few of the pathogens that can used as biological weapons,
Even though disease has been used to conquer enemies for hundreds of years, in modern times we face the potential of a gene editing technology known as CRISPR. It can edit genomes and modify DNA sequences to alter gene function. It can be used to correct genetic defects, but in the wrong hands can be used as a weapon of mass destruction.
It could be used to create drug-resistant strains of disease or insects that are not exterminated by pesticides and can wipe out a country's staple crop.
Source - MedicalNewsToday
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