BIOLOGICAL WARFARE: AN EMERGING THREAT IN THE 21ST CENTURY

Firdaus Umar

As we approach the 21st century, there is an increasing worldwide awareness and threat regarding the use of biological warfare agents both for war and terrorist attack. Biological weapons or biological warfare agents include microorganisms or biologic toxins that are used to produce death or disease in humans, animals and plants [1]Bioweapon threats could include the deliberate release by attackers of an agent that causes one or more of a variety of different diseases. Biological warfare agents are still used as they were before 20th century. The employment of Biological warfare is not limited to waralone, but can occur at anytime, at any place and by anyone

Compared to conventional or chemical weapons biological weapons are more potent.There are more than 1,200 biological agents potent enough to be utilized as weapons.[2] Anthrax is one of the most common used agent, which is characterized by high potency, low visibility and many more benefits and it is caused by Bacillus anthracis, the disease attacks both humans and animals.

The Concept of biological weapon is not a new one , but has been used for hundreds of years, Infectious diseases were recognized for their potential impact on people and armies as early as 600 BC[3]however the progress made in biotechnology and latest technological developments had led to the development and production of such weapons at an increasing rate.

There are many factors which had led to the increasing attraction towards   Biological weapons:   ability to cause mass causalities, relatively easy to produce and cheaper than any other weapons. Longstanding sources assign the following costs to prosecute a war: conventional arms $ 2,000/Km² vs chemical weapons $600 /Km² vs biological weapons $1Km²[4].Therefore it is correctly called “the poor man’s atom bomb,” by Block in American Scientist.

Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) came into force in 1975 to combat the use of biological weapons . More than 100 nations, including the United States, have ratified this international treaty, which aims to end the development and production of  bioweaponsUnfortunately many countries are still developing biological weapons despite signing and ratifying various treaties related to it as a defensive shield against their enemies, which alarms other countries especially the neighboring  countries . Treaties has been unable to stamp out the development of these weapons of mass destruction.. In spite of the agreement, bioweapon threats from fringe groups, terrorists, and nations not committed to or observing the convention continue to worry nations.As distrust among nations fuel, it accelerates the development of even more harmful bioweapons for their protection, but this sometimes harm other nations to a great extent. For instance,The former Soviet Union is known to have produced large quantities of smallpox virus and many other disease agents in its bioweapons program long after it signed the BTWC.

In the 1990s Iraq admitted to United Nations inspectors that it had produced thousands of tons of concentrated  botulinum  toxin and had developed bombs to deploy large quantities of botulinum toxin and anthrax..

Biological weapons have recently attracted the attentionand the resources of the nation.Delayed effects, unique in their invisibility allow those who use them to inculcate fear and cause confusion among their victims and to escape undetected. A biowarfare attack has a long term effect which not only cause sickness and death but also creates fear, panic a paralyzing uncertainty among people. Its goal is not only creation of health crisis but it breaks social and economic activity, the breakdown of government authority, and the impairment of military responses. Biowarfare attacks are now a possibility. The medical community as well as the public should become familiar with it and formulate control measures to increase the likelihood of a calm and reasoned response if an outbreak would occur. Primary prevention rests on creating a strong global norm that rejects development of such weapons i.e. abiding to the rules and norms of the treaties signed on biological warfare. Secondary prevention implies early detection and prompt treatment of disease. The medical community plays an important role in secondary prevention by participating in disease surveillance and reporting and thus providing the first indication of biological weapons use.

REFERENCES

1. Suzanne   RW, Col. Edward M   Etizen.  Hazardous  material exposure. In Emergency Medicine, 5th edition, 2000; 1209-14

2. Benjamin Elisha Sawe, Chemical And Biological Warfare: Major Threat In The 21st Century?WorldAtlas (2020), https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/chemical-and-biological-warfare-major-threat-in-the-21st-century.html (last visited Apr 20, 2020).

3.Eitzen EM, Jr, Takafuji ET. Historical overview of biological warfare. In: Sidell FR, Takafuji ET, Franz DR, editors. Medical Aspects of Chemical and Biological Warfare. Washington, DC: Office of the Surgeon General, Borden Institute, Walter Reed Army Medical Center; 1997. pp. 415–423. Available at http://www.bordeninstitute.army.mil/cwbw/default_index.html.

4. DC Nicotine poisoning after ingestion of contaminated ground beef. Michigan 2000. MMWR 2003; 52:413-6


[1] Suzanne RW, Col. Edward M Etizen. Hazardous materialexposure. In Emergency Medicine, 5th edition, 2000;1209-14.

[2]Benjamin Elisha Sawe, Chemical And Biological Warfare: Major Threat In The 21st Century?WorldAtlas (2020), https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/chemical-and-biological-warfare-major-threat-in-the-21st-century.html (last visited Apr 20, 2020).

[3]Eitzen EM, Jr, Takafuji ET. Historical overview of biological warfare. In: Sidell FR, Takafuji ET, Franz DR, editors. Medical Aspects of Chemical and Biological Warfare. Washington, DC: Office of the Surgeon General, Borden Institute, Walter Reed Army Medical Center; 1997. pp. 415–423. Available at http://www.bordeninstitute.army.mil/cwbw/default_index.html.

[4] DC Nicotine poisoning after ingestion of contaminatedground beef. Michigan 2000. MMWR 2003;52:413-6