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Biological Warfare A New Challenge?

There has been increasing concerns on Biological Weapons (BW) in the past few years. Most countries are not well prepared to deal with them.
Early attempts at biological warfare have included the crude use of filth, and cadavers to contaminate wells and water sources. Ships carrying plague-infected refugees sailing through Mediterranean ports are thought to have contributed to the second plague pandemic in 1348. In the le century, smallpox was used as a biological weapon against Native-Americans.[1]
During World War II, both Axis and Allied Nations devoted efforts to BW research. In Japan, prisoners were infected with anthrax, cholera, typhoid, plaque, and Typhus. In Germany, prisoners were forcibly infected with Rickettsia prowazekii, Hepatitis A, and Plasmodium species, and treated with investigational drugs. In England, bomb experiments of weaponized spores of Bacillus anthracis were conducted on Gruinard Island near the Coast of Scotland resulting in heavy contamination.[1,2]
During the Korean war, China and Korea accused the USA leadership of using BW.[3] By the late 1960s, the US military had developed a BW arsenal that included numerous bacteria, toxins, and fungal plant pathogens.[4]
In 1972, the "Biological Weapons and Toxin Convention" (BWC) was signed by several nations, prohibiting the development of BW. In spite of that, several signatory have participated in activities outlawed by the treaty.[5] The true nature of the 1979 anthrax outbreak in Sverdlovsk, former Soviet Union, has been exposed as an accident at a military BW facility.[6] Recently, appropriate legally binding protocols to strengthen the BWC have been considered.[5]
There are four general types of BW agents: bacteria, rickettsia, viruses and toxins. Each type causes a different complex of symptoms. Only a few organisms found in nature have the combination of pathogenicity, stability and ease of production needed to make effective BW, such as anthrax, botulinum toxin, Variola virus, Yersinia pestis, Francisella tularensis, and Brucella.[7]
The threat of biological warfare with a specific agent is proportional to susceptibility of the population to that agent. Currently, there are insufficient supplies of medicines and trained personnel to cope with a massive bioterrorist event.[8]
Prevention of BW proliferation requires education, specific protective measures, and environmental modification. Prevention of BW also rests on creating a strong global attitude that rejects their development and use. The medical and scientific communities play an important role in raising global awareness during international conferences, and in continuing research and development of improved diagnostic tools, therapeutic agents, and effective response plans. [5]
  1. Christopher GW, Cieslak TJ, Pavlin JA, Eitzem EM. Biological warfare: A historical perspective. JAMA 1997; 278:412-417.
  2. Manchee RJ, Stewart WD. The Decontamination of Gruinard Island, Chemistry in Britain. 1988; 24: 690-691.
  3. Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SPIRT). Allegations of biological warfare in China and Korea, 1951-1952. In: The prevention of CBW, Vol 5. Stockholm, Almqvist & Wiksell, 1971,238-260
  4. US Dept. of the Army. US Army Activity in the US Biological Warfare Programs. Washington DC: 1977;2. Publication DTIC B193427.
  5. Kadlec RP, Zelicoff AP, Vrtis AM. Biological weapons control. Prospects and Implications for future. JAMA 1997;278(5):351-6.
  6. Meselson M, Guillemin J, HughJones M, Langmuir A, Popova I, Shelokov A, et al. The Sverd-lovsk anthrax outbreak of 1979. Science 1994; 266: 1202-1208.
  7. CDC. Bioterrorism alerting use of anthrax and interim guidelines for management: USA,1998, MMWR.1999; 48:69-74.
  8. Atlas RM. The Medical Threat of Biological weapons. Crit Rev Microbiol 1998; 24(3):157-68.