Biological weapons are microorganisms like virus, bacteria, fungi, or other toxins that are produced and released deliberately to cause disease and death in humans, animals or plants. Biological agents, like anthrax, botulinum toxin and plague can pose a difficult public health challenge causing large numbers of deaths in a short amount of time while being difficult to contain. Bioterrorism attacks could also result in an epidemic, for example if Ebola or Lassa viruses were used as the biological agents. Biological weapons is a subset of a larger class of weapons referred to as weapons of mass destruction, which also includes chemical, nuclear and radiological weapons. The use of biological agents is a serious problem, and the risk of using these agents in a bioterrorist attack is increasing.
Biological weapons, like chemical weapons, radiological weapons, and nuclear weapons, are also commonly referred to as weapons of mass destruction, although the term is not truly appropriate in the case of biological armaments. Lethal biological weapons may be capable of causing mass deaths, but they are incapable of mass destruction of infrastructure, buildings, or equipment. Nevertheless, because of the indiscriminate nature of these weapons—as well as the potential for starting widespread pandemics, the difficulty of controlling disease effects, and the simple fear that they inspire—most countries have agreed to ban the entire class.
Biological warfare (BW)—also known as germ warfare—is the use of biological toxins or infectious agents such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi with the intent to kill or incapacitate humans, animals or plants as an act of war. Biological weapons (often termed “bio-weapons”, “biological threat agents”, or “bio-agents”) are living organisms or replicating entities (viruses, which are not universally considered “alive”) that reproduce or replicate within their host victims. Entomological (insect) warfare is also considered a type of biological weapon. This type of warfare is distinct from nuclear warfare and chemical warfare, which together with biological warfare make up NBC, the military initialism for nuclear, biological, and chemical warfare using weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). None of these are considered conventional weapons, which are deployed primarily for their explosive, kinetic, or incendiary potential.
BIOLOGICAL WARFARE AGENTS
Biological warfare agents differ greatly in the type of organism or toxin used in a weapons system, lethality, length of incubation, infectiousness, stability, and ability to be treated with current vaccines and medicines. There are five different categories of biological agents that could be weaponized and used in warfare or terrorism. These include:
- Rickettsiae—microorganisms that resemble bacteria but differ in that they are intracellular parasites that reproduce inside cells. Typhus and Q fever are examples of diseases caused by rickettsia organisms.
- Viruses—intracellular parasites, about 1/100 the size of bacteria, that can be weaponized to cause diseases such as Venezuelan equine encephalitis.
- Fungi—pathogens that can be weaponized for use against crops to cause such diseases as rice blast, cereal rust, wheat smut, and potato blight.
- Toxins—poisons that can be weaponized after extraction from snakes, insects, spiders, marine organisms, plants, bacteria, fungi, and animals. An example of a toxin is ricin, which is derived from the seed of the castor bean.
Some of these biological agents have properties that would make them more likely candidates for weaponization, such as their lethality, ability to incapacitate, contagiousness or noncontagiousness, hardiness and stability, and other characteristics. Among the agents deemed likely candidates for biological weapons use are the toxins ricin, staphylococcal enterotoxin B (SEB), botulinum toxin, and T-2 mycotoxin and the infectious agents responsible for anthrax, brucellosis, cholera, pneumonic plague, tularemia, Q fever, smallpox, glanders, Venezuelan equine encephalitis, and viral hemorrhagic fever. Various states at various times have looked into weaponizing dozens of other biological agents in addition.
CASE STUDY:- THE EBOLA VIRUS
The Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever outbreak of 2014 is listed as the biggest one in history with almost 9000 reported human cases and a 53% rate of fatality. The Ebola virus is classified in the genus of Ebolovirus, in the family of Filoviridae and order Mononegavirales (Kuhn et al. 2010). Five viruses of this class are known to be disease-causing in humans; Zaire ebolavirus (EBOV), Sudan ebolavirus (SUDV), Reston ebolavirus (RESTV), Côte d’Ivoire ebolavirus (TAFV) and Uganda ebolavirus (BDBV). In the case of the current outbreak, all listed cases have been infected by EBOV. The latter is the most lethal of all. It was named after the fact that the first formal record was made in Zaire in 1976, presenting an 88% rate of fatality; even though 2014’s outbreak is estimated to be the deadliest Ebola outbreak by far (Gire et al. 2014).
Since 1976, humanity has been compelled to face Ebola’s disease cases on an approximately annual basis. At the beginning of the appearance of the disease, there were cases caused by all viruses’ species. However, with the passage of time the viruses with the low fatality rate disappeared. Is this a phenomenon of natural selection or an artificial outcome? Can we diagnose any pattern in this statistical data?
Additionally, the mortality rate has always increased in underdeveloped countries, probably due to the lack of an organized health care system. During all these years the number of human cases has been fluctuating between 1 and 500. The Ebola’s outbreak, which started in Guinea in December 2013 and spread among Liberia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Senegal and almost all the West African countries, admeasures 8469 human cases to date (Figure 1). The epidemic soon spread in the Democratic Republic of Congo and is still ongoing, with scientists predicting that the cases could reach the number of 1.4 million by January (Prevention, October 13, 2014).
Europe and the United States have had the confidence that Ebola will not spread among their territory. Nevertheless, on September 30, the first Ebola case was diagnosed in Dallas, Texas (McCarthy 2014). As for the European countries, the first recorded human case with Ebola was a Spanish missionary who contracted the virus in Liberia (Gulland 2014). Germany has also recorded the third patient of this deadly disease and the first human death on October 14. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) in August 2014, 10241 travelers originating from Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia travelled to European countries. In addition, large numbers of migrant workers from the outbreak area are located within Europe and the US.
The epidemic has not made its presence felt in Greece yet. However, Reuters reported a scientific research that predicts a 75 percent chance of the virus being imported into France and a 50 percent chance into Great Britain by the end of October (Gomes, Sep 2014). Ebola outbreak is expected to accelerate in October 2014 with the number of projected cases touching the 14000.
Nevertheless, researchers are absolutely confident that Europe and America will not experience the nightmare of Ebola’s outbreak. This seems justifiable, as nearly all of the human cases in developed countries have been healed. Whoever seeks conspiracy theories may claim that these countries already have the cure and that what is taking place in Africa is merely an experiment. However, hereafter may be a more logical explanation to oppose these theories.
Nowadays the media are flooded with images of how humanity deals with the Ebola virus. It is obvious that the range of Ebola cases depends on the preventive and dealing measures (Muyembe-Tamfum et al. 1999). In developing countries, due to the lack of education, expertise and health care, there is a high transmission and mortality rate. Doctors there do not have the appropriate medical equipment. They are not able to run full tests. They do not have the expertise to treat this epidemic or even to control its spread. People diagnosed with Ebola should be kept in quarantine individually, but in West Africa there are barely any main hospital units. As a result of these, if scientists have the slightest suspicion of the virus infection in people “they imprison them in the same cage” (Fowler et al. 2014).
Culture and traditions can sometimes also play dramatic roles towards this direction. For instance, several funeral and/or burial rituals require physical contact with the body of the deceased, even if he/she has died from Ebola. Physical contact is a crucial communication code among west Africans (Dowell et al. 1999). Religious beliefs could also aid in this direction.
On the other hand, developed countries have all the resources to avoid this epidemic. People can get informed on how to protect themselves and disease symptoms are widely known. They have the necessary educational level in order to resort immediately to medical aid protecting their health and not putting others in risk. In Europe and America, there are special ized treatment and hemodialysis units in hospitals. These countries also have the financial background to support expensive patient medication (Nagata 2014).