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Click on any microorganism below, or click on the upward pointing arrow to go to the Main page of the article.




This is probably the microorganism which has been researched in the greatest detail by the defence (or rather, offense) community.

Bacillus anthracis, the organism that causes anthrax, derives its name from the Greek word for coal, anthracis, because of its ability to cause black, coal-like cutaneous eschars.


Images : Click on the images to view larger versions, which open in new windows.

1) The typical black hardened "eschar" which is a characteristic feature of Anthrax.
2) A larger eschar, this time on the neck. An opening extending inwards (a fistula?) can also be seen.
3) Anthrax pneumonia caused by inhalation of anthrax spores. The basal portions of both lungs are affected in this case. This is the usual cause of death in Anthrax. In this case, the patient died 22 days after the X-ray was taken.
4) An alternate way of dying if you are affected with anthrax : Hemorrhagic Meningitis.

In the second half of this century, anthrax was developed as part of a larger biological weapons program by several countries, including the Soviet Union and the U.S. The number of nations believed to have biological weapons programs has steadily risen from 10 in 1989 to 17 in 1995, but how many are working with anthrax is uncertain.


Manufacturing ease:

The main "advantage"  with anthrax is that, it is very easy to cultivate the bacteria and the spores (as most bact. spores are) are extremely resistant to adverse environmental conditions and hence, easy to deliver at the desired site of attack. It is estimated that a production facility for producing anthrax in weapon quantities could probably be set up in a small house or apartment for <$100,000 and could be run by perhaps less than a dozen technicians with only the equivalent of a BS degree, operating under the direction of a single Ph.D.



Ease of Delivery:

Since the bacteria are transported in the form of spores, transportation is extremely easy and does not require specialized equipment.





Infectivity : 

A 1970 analysis by the World Health Organization concluded that the release of aerosolized anthrax upwind of a population of 5 million could lead to an estimated 2.5 million casualties. (that is around 50% of the population will be affected)

An analysis the Office of Technology Assessment of the U.S. Congress in 1970-80, estimated that around 3 million deaths could occur following the release of 100 kilograms  of aerosolized anthrax over Washington D.C., making such an attack as lethal as a hydrogen bomb.
100 kilograms isn't much. Any two 3rd year students will weigh more than 100 kgs. Two interns wont, but that's another story.


However, Anthrax does not spread from person to person, making a "chain reaction" impossible. This fact prevents it from scoring the perfect 5 in this category in my ratings....
(However, please see the clarification below) 

Mortality :

The early presentation of anthrax disease would resemble a fever or cough and would therefore be exceedingly difficult to diagnose without a high degree of suspicion. Once symptoms begin, death follows 1-3 days later for most people. If appropriate antibiotics are not started before development of symptoms, the mortality rate is estimated to be 90%.
In short, an attack by the anthrax bacillus will create a population of the "LIVING DEAD" who would be alive, but without any hope of cure.




Interesting Facts about Anthrax:

1) During the checks carried out on the Iraqi defence establishments by UN inspectors after the Gulf War, 8500 gallons of anthrax, 50 prepared bombs and 4 missile warheads with this material were found and documented in the official reports. This quantity of anthrax would be enough to wipe out ALL the major cities in the US.

2) The "Aum Shirinko"  religious sect, which gained notoriety in 1995 for releasing Sarin gas into the Tokyo subway system, had developed a large number of biological weapons, including anthrax. ( This information has been reproduced from "Center of Civilian Biodefense studies" , an official US govt. agency, hence I do not think there should be no doubt about the authenticity of the info)

Image :
The self-styled Guru of Aum Shirinkyo, Shoko Asahara

3) An accident in a weapons manufacturing facility in Sverdlosk in Russia led to an outbreak of Anthrax in 1979. The exact figure of those dead is still secret, but is estimated to be around 200. ( Read more about the accident in the "News Articles" section of the article)

Image : This picture might be of the Sverdlosk complex. However, I am not sure of it.

4) ALL American soldiers are routinely immunized against Anthrax.

5) The sale of Anthrax and smallpox vaccines in the US saw a sudden spurt after the WTC bombings, creating a scarcity of these vaccines. ( The Economic Times, India, 27 Sept 2001 last page)



The Clarification:
he fact that Anthrax doesn't spread from person to person is, in fact, one of its positive points. 

Imagine that you are the president of the USSR. If you authorize a biological attack against the US, it would be very reassuring to know that YOUR OWN POPULATION WAS NOT GOING TO BE AFFECTED.
Non-communicable biological weapons like Anthrax guarantee exactly that. Although there is a danger that anthrax may spread among the animals and eventually affect your own human population, the danger of this happening is comparatively low when you consider diseases like Smallpox which have the potential of causing a world wide catastrophe.
In case of bioweapons like Botulinum Toxin, the danger of your own population being eventually affected is practically nil.

Why then do countries make bioweapons like smallpox which are potentially lethal to themselves?
MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) is a consequence of the Cold War arms race that some people (some of whom were in a position to influence the policies of their Governments) say prevented the 3rd world war from happening. It is not difficult to imagine these same people  arguing that a biological war was avoided all these years exactly because the biological weapons developed are so deadly that it would be irrational to use them...

However, would terrorists be rational if the got their hands on a communicable bioweapon like Smallpox? Would they care about the strategic value of using such a weapon or would they just try to destroy the "Enemy Country" , no matter what the consequences that befall themselves later are?
You are free to make your own guess.