The bacteria Anthrax (Bacillus anthracis) has become famous due to its connection with biological warfare and its potential to be used by Terrorists. Anthrax has a long history of involvement in biological warfare being deemed a suitable biological agent due to the variety of ways it can be spread and the extreme hardiness of its spores. It was the first disease agent to be purified, by a young German Doctor called Robert Koch in 1870. Anthrax naturally normally affects herbivorous animals such as sheep and cattle so cases due occur naturally among those involved in this industry. In cattle the symptoms are staggering and convulsions and then death within a few days. Human infection occurs when spores make contact with exposed skin or enter the lungs as airborne particles, infection can also occur by eating infected meat. Skin Anthrax and intestinal anthrax (from eating infected meat) have a mortality rate of 30-60% if left untreated, inhalation of anthrax spores has a much higher mortality rate if left untreated with around 90% of victims dying.
Each type of infection has different symptoms, skin or cuteous Anthrax appears as a large pus filled blister and possible inflammation of the lymph glands. Intestinal Anthrax brings on painful stomach cramps, acute inflammation of the intestinal tract and finally vomiting of blood and severe diarrhoea. Inhalation Anthrax which has the highest morality rate has initial symptoms similar to that of the common cold followed by breathing problems and then shock. Immunization is effective and the US began immunizing military staff in 1998. the vaccine is made up of a dead form of the bacteria and is given in three injections two weeks apart followed by boosters very 6 months for the first 18 months, Side effects are rare. The disease can be treated with antibiotics if caught in the early stages which is of course is very difficult for the inhalation infection due to the early symptoms.
Anthrax became more famous after British experiments in 1942. Test anthrax bombs were dropped on the Scottish island of Gruinard. the spores were so resilient that in 1986 over 40 years later the spores were still active and the island was decontaminated with hundreds of thousands of litres of Formaldehyde. The large scale use of Anthrax as a terror weapon by low tech terrorists is unlikely as although it has been used against media organisations throughout the world via mail deliveries this is far from an effective delivery method mostly resulting in easy to treat skin Anthrax cases. As with most biological weapons it is not production of the biological agent that is the problem for the terrorist but the development of an effective method of delivery in particular for an airborne agent.
How to cite this article:
Dugdale-Pointon,T. (13 November 2001), Anthrax, http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_anthrax.html.html
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