Thesis: Biological Warfare How Disease or Infection Could Spread Through Population Centers From Urban Entry Point

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Biological Warfare

Dramatic technological advances in molecular biology over recent decades have significantly increased the possibility of illicit weaponization of Biological agents, leading to the increased danger of clandestine and terrorist biological warfare (Ryan & Glarum; Fidler & Gostin; Linden; Petsko). The development of technical innovations allows facile manipulation of bacteria and viruses such that individuals with an undergraduate education in biology-related fields may be capable of engaging in biological weaponization given a sufficiently-equipped laboratory and resources (Lindler, Lebeda, & Korch; Ryan & Glarum; Linden; Petsko). Biological terrorism also need not require any alteration or molecular manipulation of biological agents; rather, certain agents, like smallpox, or toxins derived from biological agents, could simply be released in populated areas (Petsko; Lindler, Lebeda, & Korch; Zilinskas; Fidler & Gostin). The primary goal of biological weapons, from the perspective of rogue terrorist organization, is not inflict substantial mortalities on the general populace, although that may be a corollary, but rather to incite terror, resulting in social and economic disruption throughout the country (Cordesman; Linden; Ryan & Glarum; Lindler, Lebeda, & Korch; Petsko).

Biological weapons pose a significant danger to human populaces because they are specifically chosen for their associated lack of innate immunity or resistance within the general population (Zilinskas; Kortepeter & Parker). Biological weapons are seldom used by countries during war due to their insidious nature and inherent lack of discrimination; however, bioagents may represent an attractive and cheap weapon for less scrupulous terrorist organizations (Kortepeter & Parker). In addition to being significantly easier to produce, bioagents are comparatively less expensive than chemical or nuclear weapons (Kortepeter & Parker). In the modern world, the prevalence of expansive and celeritous transportation networks, including train stations, subways and airports, drastically increases the potential for rapid and extensive disease transmission by biological weapons in extremely short periods of time (Zilinskas; Petsko; Ryan & Glarum). This essay will examine the types of agents which could be utilized for biological warfare, putative means of entry into the general population and modes of transmission, timelines of disease spread, and potential prophylactic actions and biodefense which could be preemptively employed (Kortepeter & Parker; Cordesman; Lindler, Lebeda, & Korch; Ryan & Glarum).

Potential Biological Weapons

Biological agents, or rather pathogenic microorganisms, are attractive prospective weapons due to their unique characteristics (Kortepeter & Parker; Zilinskas). Since pathogenic microorganisms are capable of amplifying themselves and propagating disease from one individual to another, biological weapons may spread exponentially if transmission is not properly and effectively countered (Cordesman; Kortepeter & Parker). Certain microorganisms may additionally couple long incubation times with facile transmission, thereby leading to widespread transmission before individuals even realize they are afflicted (Cordesman; Zilinskas; Kortepeter & Parker).

Weaponization of biological microorganisms specifically involves taking the pathogen, stabilizing it, as in the form of sporulation or lyophilization, so that it can be transported and disseminated without significant loss in bioactivity (Zilinskas; Kortepeter & Parker). Production of weaponized agents on a large scale, however, requires substantial resources and may therefore be prohibitive for terrorist activities, evidenced by the dearth of biological terrorist attacks (Kortepeter & Parker; Cordesman). However, unlike nuclear or chemical weapons, biological weapons are significantly more accessible to produce and more difficult to detect (Cordesman; Kortepeter & Parker; Fidler & Gostin).

Biological weapons may include agents specifically targeted toward humans, agriculture, or livestock (Kortepeter & Parker; Fidler & Gostin; Cordesman). The most common biological agents which are prospective candidates for weaponization toward humans include bacillus anthracis (anthrax), yersinia pestis (plague), and ebola and related hemorrhagic fever viruses (Zilinskas; Kortepeter & Parker). Additionally, biological toxins such as ricin, botulism toxin, and various mycotoxins could also putatively be utilized as bioweapons (Kortepeter & Parker). Agriculture and livestock may similarly be targeted by biological weapons.

Smallpox and anthrax are the two most significant threats due to their significant lethality, ability to be aerosolized, and high production potential (Kortepeter & Parker). The availability of vaccines to prevent infection is also limited and production may not occur in sufficient time to deal disease spread (Kortepeter & Parker). Attaining the smallpox virus, however, would be difficult given its near eradication within human populations (Kortepeter & Parker).

The plague also represents a realistic biological threat by terrorist organizations. The potential economic and social disruption of plague outbreak is enormous, as evidenced by the 1994 emergence in India, which lead to various embargoes and fleeing of the general populace, on the order of hundreds of thousands, from the city of Surat (Kortepeter & Parker). The plague is highly infectious and can be fatal if not effectively treated (Kortepeter & Parker; Zilinskas; Cordesman).

Entry into the Populace and Modes of Transmission

Given the increasing density of human populations and speed with which individuals can travel throughout the country and the world, the infection and transmission of individuals with biological agents could be extensive by the time authorities realize that a biological attack has occurred (Kortepeter & Parker; Cordesman; Ryan & Glarum). The most attractive sites for biological attack are frequently large population centers and public locations with significant amounts of people that may also be involved in transportation, such as airports or subways (Petsko; Lindler, Lebeda, & Korch; Fidler & Gostin; Cordesman).

Initial infection of individuals may occur via an assortment of means, including inhalation, ingestion, or dermal absorption through microabrasions in the skin (Zilinskas; Cordesman; Ryan & Glarum). Thus, potential vectors for distribution of biological agents may include aerosols, contamination of the food or water supply, and animals or insects (Cordesman; Linden; Kortepeter & Parker). Release of these agents may occur within airports or subways, municipal water plants, or within various elements of the food industry (Cordesman; Linden; Kortepeter & Parker).

Subsequent interpersonal transmission of disease from infected individuals to non-infected individuals may then occur via physical interaction or fluid transfer (Cordesman; Zilinskas). Fluid transfer may occur by several means, although the most likely is through aerosolization of microdroplets of saliva after coughing or sneezing, and supervening touching of the eye, nose or mouth (Cordesman; Zilinskas).

Since biological agents may go unnoticed for extended periods of time as a result of incubation, infected individuals may exhibit no symptoms while remaining potentially contagious (Cordesman; Kortepeter & Parker; Ryan & Glarum). As a result, bioagents may continue to spread throughout the population away from the original site of infection (Cordesman; Kortepeter & Parker; Zilinskas). Since the infectivity and spread of disease varies dramatically depending on the agent and the site of release, it is difficult to determine the prevalence and rate of disease transmission. However, if the incubation period is days or weeks, infected individuals may potentially travel throughout the country during that time frame, further propagating disease spread, before the first symptoms make an appearance (Cordesman; Kortepeter & Parker; Fidler & Gostin; Ryan & Glarum).

In 1970, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a study examining the theoretical effects of releasing disparate bioagents downwind of a civilian population totaling 500,000 (Lederberg). The amount of weaponized bioagent considered was 110 pounds, and researchers concluded that the release of a bioagent like anthrax from an airplane that is one-mile from the civilian population would spread downwind over 12 miles, kill 95,000 of the 500,000 individuals within the population center, and incapacitate another 125,000 (Lederberg). Even less lethal biological agents like Xoxiella burnetii, the pathogen associated with Q. fever, which would kill only 150 of those 500,000 people, would still incapacitate 125,000 individuals (Lederberg). Thus, release of bioweapons has real dramatic potential to not only devastate a significant portion of a medium-sized population, up to 20% with anthrax, but the psychological state of city, nearby regions, and the country as a whole are likely to highly disrupted.

Biological agents may additionally be introduced into the population through food and water supplies. Botulinum toxin is extremely lethal and 50 nanograms per kilogram of body weight is capable of killing half of the individuals who are exposed to it (Lederberg; Zilinskas). However, botilinum toxin will rapidly degrade if exposed to the external environment and therefore is not appropriate for aerosolized release in a biological attack (Cordesman; Kortepeter & Parker; Fidler & Gostin). Foodborne botulism, conversely, is a realistic threat with a potential lethality of 25% early on (Cordesman; Kortepeter & Parker). With increased cases, more effective treatment will be employed for affected individuals. Recovery may potentially take months. Unlike pathogenic microorganisms, biotoxins like botulinum toxin will not spread from one individual to another by self-replication and transmission (Cordesman; Kortepeter & Parker; Lederberg).

Ultimately, the rate and prevalence of transmission is dependent on multiple factors, including: type of biological agent released, location of release, mechanism of release, incubation period of the biological agent, level of transmissibility, time before the attack is detected by governmental authorities, and the effectiveness of authorities in mitigating disease spread through prophylactic and quarantine procedures.

Biodefense

The most effective method of dealing with potential biological attacks is through preventative action. Since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the United States has re-invigorated efforts to prevent the potential release or use of bioagents within the… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Biological Warfare How Disease or Infection Could Spread Through Population Centers From Urban Entry Point.  (2009, November 11).  Retrieved May 23, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/biological-warfare-disease-infection/84898

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"Biological Warfare How Disease or Infection Could Spread Through Population Centers From Urban Entry Point."  11 November 2009.  Web.  23 May 2019. <https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/biological-warfare-disease-infection/84898>.

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"Biological Warfare How Disease or Infection Could Spread Through Population Centers From Urban Entry Point."  Essaytown.com.  November 11, 2009.  Accessed May 23, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/biological-warfare-disease-infection/84898.