Canada's Aerospace and Defence WeeklyClick here for TWR History

Defence History Reference Section
Do a keyword search.

Weapons of Mass Destruction (Chem/Bio)

Threat Scenario, Detection, Super Diseases, BZ Gas, Anthrax, Botulism, Ebola, Glanders, Hantavirus, Pneumonic Plague, Small Pox, TularemiaTyphoid, VX Gas, Tabun-Sarin-Soman


RSS Feed Reader The Wednesday Report Current Issues are Syndicated Via RSS Feed

Detection Of Attack

Detection of a biological agent that has been used in an attack is dependent to a great extent upon the observation of unusual circumstances of attack (such as the presence of smokes or mists, strange munitions, or unusual vectors) or upon widespread illness of persons and animals.  The process involved in the identification of a biological agent is difficult even under the most favourable conditions.  
Any attack will probably come with little or no warning.  Unusual disease agents, mixtures of various agents, very high infective doses, and unusual portals of entry or methods of infection will be employed, all of which will make even more difficult the task of identification of the organisms as well as the diagnosis of the disease it produces.  
Diagnosis of the disease produced by recognition of its characteristic symptoms and its reaction to treatment is of value in helping to identify the biological agent, but this can usually be accomplished only days or weeks after the attack or exposure, because of the incubation period required before symptoms are apparent.  Samples of probable biological agents are sent to designated laboratories where they are identified by trained technicians. Anthracis can be found in the blood, skin lesions, or respiratory secretions.  Tests also can measure specific antibodies in the blood of people with suspected cases.

There are several forms of the Anthrax disease. Per acute is the most intense form followed by "acute anthrax", sub acute (or internal anthrax), and chronic or localized (external) anthrax. In the acute forms symptoms include excitement and a rise in body temperature followed by depression, spasms, respiratory or cardiac distress, trembling, staggering, convulsions, and death. Bloody discharges sometimes come from the natural body openings, and edematous swellings may appear in various locations on the body.

The per acute and acute forms generally end with death occurring within a day or two. Sub acute forms of anthrax either lead to death in three to five days (or sometimes longer) or to complete recovery after several days, depending on the overall health of the victim and the exposure to the agent.

Strict quarantine measures, disposal of the dead by burning or burial in carefully marked graves that will not contaminate drinking water in the future are a necessity if there is an attack.  Since flies can carry this disease, care must be taken to avoid letting flies multiply.  Strict sanitation, screening over doors and window, and other protective measures are in order.

Natural outbreaks of Anthrax in humans usually occurs as a coetaneous, pulmonary, or intestinal infection. Of these the localized infection of the skin in the form of a carbuncle is the most common; this results from handling infected material. Lesions are usually seen on the hands, arms, or neck; this resembles a small pimple that develops rapidly into a large vesicle with black necrotic centre (known as a "malignant pustule"). Large numbers of lesions can lead to fatal blood poisoning.

The intestinal form of anthrax often occurs after eating contaminated meat. It is characterized by acute inflammation of the intestinal tract, vomiting, and severe diarrhoea.

Anthrax generally has a 1 to 7 day incubation period before a victim exposed to the spores becomes ill. Spores delivered in a terrorist incident would probably be in a dry, powdered form looking something like dried cocoa.

Symptoms include tightness of the chest and the symptoms of a cold. Often victims will appear to recover (this is known as the "Anthrax eclipse"); this comes to an end around day four of the il1ness when victims will die from anthrax pneumonia.

Treatment following exposure to spores requires a massive dose of antibiotics during the first 24 hours in order to prevent a lethal build-up of toxins.

"Black pox" or "Ebola pox" would become a highly contagious disease that would create haemorrhaging and a very high mortality rate.

The Ebola virus burst from obscurity late this century with spectacular outbreaks of severe, hemorrhagic fever. The first outbreak in Zaire resulted in 318 cases with a fatality rate of 90 percent; later it caused 150 deaths out of 250 cases in Sudan. Smaller outbreaks have continued in Africa with scientists unsure what the animal vector of the disease is - or even if there is one.

Epidemics appear to have resulted from person-to-person transmission as well as through laboratory infections, making this a potentially very contagious and deadly disease that is undoubtedly of great interest to those searching for new biological weapons. The incubation period for the needle-transmitted Ebola virus (spread by medical authorities who improperly sterilized equipment used for vaccinations) appears to be 5 to 7 days; person-to-person transmission takes from 6 to 12 days.

The virus spreads through the blood and then is replicated in many of the body's organs including the liver, lymphatic organs, kidneys, ovaries, and testes. As the disease progresses, it manifests itself in the form of bleeding, especially in the mucosa, abdomen, pericardium, and vagina. The capillary leakage leads to loss of blood volume, bleeding from various points in the body, shock, and acute respiratory disorder for those cases that will prove fatal. These patients eventually die of intractable shock. The illness is often accompanied by sustained high fevers with patients often becoming delirious and combative.

If Smallpox or Anthrax were dispersed  by terrorists, the number of victims would increase exponentially.

Glanders, first described by Aristotle in 330 BC, is an airborne bacterial disease that causes boils to break out on animals and humans. It is generally spread by flies, and is still found in parts of Africa and the Middle East. Although usually spread naturally by ingestion of contaminated food or water, it can be spread in aerosol form, making it useful as a biological weapon. It has an incubation period of 3 to 5 days.

The disease is caused by Pseudomonas mallei (Actinobacillus mallei), a bacteria that is common to horse and some other mammals in Asia and Mediterranean areas but rare in North America. The disease is most often spread from the infectious discharges of wounds and mucus membranes which through one route or another are then ingested.

Symptoms include cough and nasal discharge from the pulmonary form of this disease. The coetaneous form is marked by multiple, purulent, coetaneous eruptions, often following lymphatics. The fatality rate in humans is 95 percent if left untreated.

The first symptoms of most Hantavirus exposures resulting in the disease are fever, muscle aches, chills, and cough. As the disease progresses, the lungs quickly fill with blood, choking airways. Death can result in a matter of hours after the initial symptoms. And the initial symptoms are so common that they can easily go unrecognized.

Bubonic and pneumonic plague are both forms of plague, but with differing symptoms. Both are caused by the same bacterium and are spread by rodents and their fleas.  Pneumonic plague can also be spread by droplets released into the air when an infected person coughs or by aerosol spray if it is being used as a biological weapon.

The incubation period of Bubonic plague is 2 to 6 days following exposure.  Symptoms include enlarged, swollen lymph nodes and fever; pneumonic plague occurs when the disease spreads to the lungs, causing pneumonia. If untreated, bubonic plague is fatal to about 50 to 60 percent of its victims; untreated pneumonic plague reaps nearly 100 percent fatalities.

Smallpox has an incubation time of 7 to 16 days following exposure. Smallpox begins with something that's a lot like chicken pox with small blisters forming on the skin, especially on the face, chest and hands. But then as days go by, the blisters grow larger and a high fever develops that comes and goes. Victims eventually go into shock and may also suffer from secondary infections in blisters. The disease is highly contagious.

Typhoid fever is a bacterial infection of the blood caused by Salmonella typhi bacteria. The infection is spread directly from person to person as well as by contaminated food or water. Typhoid fever also has infected, chronic "carriers" who may not show any symptoms, but can pass the germs in their feces and urine for many years. Animals do not spread this disease.

Symptoms show up 1 to 3 weeks after exposure and include fever, headache, red  spots on the trunk of the body, slow heart rate, and constipation (or, less commonly, diarrhoea). Intestinal haemorrhage may also occur with significant bleeding occurring during the third week of the infection. This most often causes fatal complications of this disease.

Threat Scenario, Detection, Super Diseases BZ Gas, Anthrax, Ebola, Glanders, Hantavirus, Pneumonic Plague, Small Pox, Typhoid, VX Gas