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Biological Weapons

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Anthrax

Bacillus anthracis (Anthrax)

Credit: Janice Haney Carr/CDC

Biological Weapons

Biological weapons are toxic materials produced from pathogenic organisms (usually microbes) or artificially manufactured toxic substances that are used to intentionally interfere with the biological processes of a host. These substances work to kill or incapacitate the host. Biological weapons may be used to target living organisms such as humans, animals or vegetation. They may also be used to contaminate nonliving substances such as air, water and soil.

There are a variety of microorganisms that can be used as biological weapons. Agents are commonly chosen because they are highly toxic, easily obtainable and inexpensive to produce, easily transferable from person to person, can be dispersed in aerosol form, or have no known vaccine. While it is possible to develop biological weapons from microbes, typically bacteria, finding a means of distributing the substances is difficult. One possible way is through aerosols. This can be ineffective as the materials often get clogged when spraying. Biological agents distributed by air may also be destroyed by UV light or rain may wash them away. Another method of distribution may be to attach the toxins to a bomb so that they may be released upon explosion. The problem with this is that the microbes will most likely be destroyed by the explosion as well.

Potential Biological Weapons

Below is a list of a few biological organisms that may potentially be used as biological weapons.

Microbe Natural Environment Target Host Mode of Contraction Diseases/Symptoms
Anthrax Bacillus anthracis Soil Humans, Domestic Animals Open Wounds, Inhalation Pulmonary Anthrax Septicemia, Flu-like symptoms
Clostridium botulinum Soil Humans Contaminated Food or Water, Inhalation
Clostridium perfringens Intestines of humans and other animals, Soil Humans, Domestic Animals Open Wounds Gas gangrene, Severe Abdominal Cramps, Diarrhea
RICIN Protein Toxin Extracted from Castor Bean Plants Humans Contaminated Food or Water, Inhalation, Injection Severe Abdominal Pain, Watery and Bloody Diarrhea, Vomiting, Weakness, Fever, Cough, and Pulmonary Edema
Smallpox Eradicated from Nature, Now Obtained from Laboratory Stockpiles Humans Direct Contact with Bodily Fluids or Contaminated Objects, Inhalation Persistent Fever, Vomiting, Rash on Tongue and in Mouth, Rash and Bumps on Skin


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