POTENTIAL MICROBIAL WEAPONS 



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Last Updated

04 Nov 2002

There are five microbial agents that experts agree might be used as biological weapons. For a more complete description of each, appropriate to public health, click on the name of the disease.


Mode of Spread

as weapon

Contagious Incubation

period

Symptoms Vaccine Treatment

ANTHRAX

Aerosol No Within 7 days Fever, malaise, fatigue, occasional cough and chest discomfort evolving into severe respiratory distress Yes, but not for the public. Used only by the military Antibiotics, if administered prior to symptom onset
Expert opinion:

"It is deadly.  It's one of a few pathogens that forms spores that are hardy and resistant to environmental stresses."

- Ramond Zillnskas, Senior scientist at the Monterey Institute of International studies.

Mode of Spread

as weapon

Contagious Incubation

period

Symptoms Vaccine Treatment

SMALLPOX

Aerosol Yes; last diagnosed case occurred in Somalia in 1977 Averages 12-14 days Acute onset of fever, headache, abdominal pain and severe muscle aches; rash later appears, scabs over and forms pits and scars. Yes, exists in laboratories but not used anywhere in the world No treatment for virus. Hospital care and antibiotics for secondary infection
Expert opinion:

"It has the potential to spread uncontrollably around the world.  It's hard to believe a nation would supply such a virus to a terrorist."

- Ramond Zillnskas

Mode of Spread

as weapon

Contagious Incubation

period

Symptoms Vaccine Treatment

BOTULISM

Aerosol, sabotage of food supply or water supply No 12 to 72 hours Double or blurred vision, speech, difficulty swallowing, dry mouth and associated sore throat, muscle weakness; may progress to paralysis of the arms, trunks and legs. Yes, but not for the public. Used for lab workers and the military Ventilator to aid breathing; antitoxins can halt disease progress and shorten symptoms
Expert opinion:

"To weaponize it, for a mass effect, is not easy to do."

- Frank Cillufo, terrorism expert at the Center for Strategic & International Studies, Washington, DC

Mode of Spread

as weapon

Contagious Incubation

period

Symptoms Vaccine Treatment

TULAREMIA

Aerosol No 1 to 14 days Weight loss, fever, chills, fatugue, chest discomfort, dry cougth; swollen lymph nodes Yes, but not for the public. Used for lab workers  Antibiotics 
Expert opinion:

"It is very infectious... The organim is very small and it can stay in the air for a very long time."

- Lee Borenstein, microbiologist in Los Angeles County Public Health Laboratory molecular epidemiology department

Mode of Spread

as weapon

Contagious Incubation

period

Symptoms Vaccine Treatment

PNEUMONIC PLAGUE

Aerosol Yes 1 to 6 days High fever, chillls, headache, cough with blood sputum, severe pneumonia and sepsis No known effective vaccine  Antibiotics may help if administered early
Expert opinion:

"The agents that concern me are the ones that can spread from person to person.  Pneumonic plague is a major risk for spreading, by spittle or a cough."

- Lee Borenstein

Sources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Federation American Scientists

Henry L. Stimson Center

Center for Civilian Biodefense Studies, Johns Hopkins University

Los Angeles Times, October 9, 2001

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