1) How It Has Been Used in Past Wars
2) How We Can Expect It to Be Used in the Future
IVAre We At Risk of Being Attacked With Biological Weapons?
1) Defending Ourselves Against Biological Weapons
Nuclear, Biological and Chemical (NBC) warfare is one of the most dreaded forms of attack on the battlefield. In the last century, we learned a great deal about how life works, how it is organized. We have used that technology to save many lives by curing diseases and vaccinating against viruses. But it seems that whenever we have a breakthrough in science, there is an ever-present danger of a form of weapon resulting from the discovery. Biological Warfare is defined as bacteria, viruses, fungi or rickettsia, which are used in wartime to cause disease or death in people (Hay, 1984).
It seems like a contradiction. Doctors work hard to find cures and vaccinations for the various diseases and viruses that plague our population. On the other side of the coin, however, there are people that would use disease as a weapon. They not only use the sort of disease that nature provides, but try to create more effective and horrific manmade diseases. Biological weapons, as opposed to chemical weapons, are effective with a relatively small quantity of agent. However, most of these agents have a limited shelf life, as their activity is continually declining (Hay, 1984).
Most biological agents are dispersed in aerosol form. They can be sprayed from a small cylinder with compressed air, spread by guided missiles, dispersed as a powder from aircraft, or used in a cluster of bombs. The danger is the potential for these biological agents, if successful in infecting a population, can be spread quickly. The U.S. Navy tested the effectiveness of Biological weapons on a metropolis in November of 1950. They released harmless bacteria off the California coast, sufficient to contaminate 117 square miles of the San Francisco Bay area. Scientists reported that nearly all of the 800,000 inhabitants of the city had inhaled the bacteria (Hay, 1984).
To cause an epidemic, an enemy would select a highly contagious virus or bacteria. They would decide whether to use an extremely lethal agent or one that would temporarily incapacitate a population or army to weaken defenses. Most biological weapons are influenza viruses or pneumonic plague bacillus. These meet the requirement of being highly contagious by human contact. As an example, an estimated 20 million people died in the great influenza pandemic of 1918 and 1919 – just three percent of those infected. Surprisingly, then, this great loss of life actually represents a low mortality rate (Solomon, 1999).
For incapacitating the target, brucellosis is preferred. This is a chronic infection caused by the Brucella species of bacteria. A person can be infected by skin contact, by eating or drinking infected material, or by inhaling the organism. This is also an agent that can be produced easily in fermenters. Symptoms vary, but common are a severe chill, a recurring fever, sweating, headache, loss of appetite, extreme exhaustion, aching joints and depression. The symptoms last upwards of four weeks, but relapses can continue for years (Hay, 1984).
The most well known form of brucellosis is anthrax. Aggressors favor this primarily because it is lethal and relatively easy to manufacture. Anthrax is caused by the bacterium bacillus anthracis, and is spread by skin contact, contact with infected animals, or by inhaling or ingesting the agent. The mortality rate is highest when infected by inhalation, at eighty per cent of untreated cases. The danger of anthrax is long term as well. Forty years after being tested on Gruinard, the island is still contaminated with the bacterium (Solomon, 1999).
Although the danger of biological weapons increases as technology progresses, it is not a new threat. One of the earliest reported uses was in the sixth century B.C., when the Assyrians poisoned their enemy’s wells with a fungus disease called rye ergot. The commander of British forces in America, Jeffrey Amherst, used biological warfare on the Ottawa Indians. He sent two wagons of blankets from the smallpox hospital to the tribe as a “peace-offering.” And in the 15th century, Pizarro reportedly presented the South American natives with variola-contaminated