Bioterrorism can be found in history as far back as 1346 in a city on the Black Sea called Kaffa. In this case Tartar warriors from western Asia camped outside the city in hopes to take it over. After awhile some of the warriors came down with the plague. At this time over half of the European population had the plague. The leader of the Tartar warriors had the idea of catapulting the plague infected bodies over the city walls to infect the people within. The schema worked and the warriors were able to take the city.
In the 1754 French and Indian War the British donated blankets to the Indians to show their “goodwill” to the Indians. Unknown to the Indians was the fact that the blankets had come from hospital beds and were used by people dieing of smallpox. The nasty infection killed off almost all of the tribes.
It wasn’t until World War II that bioterrorism hit the big times. It seemed like everyone was interested in seeing what they could do with biological weapons. The Japanese haled massive numbers of plague-infested rat fleas onto Manchurian China. The brief downpour of fleas killed around 10,000 people. The United States started up a biological weapons program in 43 but was discontinued in 69. Or at least publicly. The U.S. still does “research” on what they call defensive weapons.
In 1972 most of the world, 140 nations to be exact, figured out that biological weapons were not to be messed with and they signed a treaty called the Biologic Weapons Convention Treaty. The treaty was an agreement to not use biological weapons.
Not everyone signed the agreement though. Namely the Soviet Union. They continued to build upon their “biopreparat” program. This program employed around 25,000 people in 8 major facilities and had an annual cost of $1 billion. The Soviet Union tried to weaponize agents like the plaque, anthrax, small pox, and even botulism toxin. It even produced 30 tons of anthrax. Some of the anthrax was genetically altered to be antibiotic resistant. The program backfired when some anthrax leaked out of a lab near Sverdlovsk. Plans and animals that were in a 30-mile radius died as well as around 65 people.
Today bioterrorism is still a threat from agents such as anthrax and tularemia. Most of the U.S. Tularemia that was stockpiled in the 60s was destroyed in 73. Unlike the Soviet Union which continues to make antibiotic and vaccine-resistant strains of the stuff.
But how damaging could bioterrorism be? Well according to a World Health Organization report 50 kg of virulent F. Tularensis pored over a city with a population around 5 million would kill around 19, 000 deaths and 250,000 incapacitated people. That’s 269,000 affected out of 5 million.
The plague is also still a major player in the bioterrorism world. 50 kg of plague, Y pestis to be exact, pored over the same 5 million large city would result in around 36,000 deaths and 150,000 cases of pneumonic plague. that’s a total of 186,000 taken out of the city.
Surprisingly one of the biggest threats of bioterrorism is something we Americans thought we got rid of years ago. It turns out that we shouldn’t be scared of white powder in envelopes but rather the once thought dead virus Smallpox. In the 80’s the World Health Organization asked that all smallpox virus stocks be destroyed, or at the very least transferred to one of two state of the art virus containment centers. Unfortunately the Soviet government thought differently about the subject and refused to comply. Instead it embarked on a program to produce the virus is large quantities.
Flash forward to the 90’s and we find that a lot of the money the USSR had for it’s bioweapons department has disappeared. Many believe that it may be because the virus has fallen into the wrong hands.
Unfortunately the U.S. stopped making vaccinations when we thought the disease was eradicated. Most Americans born after 72 have not been immunized of Smallpox. Add to this the fact that even people who were vaccinated might not be immunized due to the fact that the vaccinated could have worn off and it is no wonder that many people fear that the next bioterrorism act will be done using smallpox. Fortunately scientists have convinced the U.S. government to start plans to increase the production of Smallpox vaccines. Some still fear that these vaccines will be made too late.
Bioterrorism has been a threat for many years and it would seem that it will be a threat for many more. Although it is true that many efforts are being made to better ensure the safety of the people around the world nothing is a sure thing and biologically driven terrorist are a real threat, one that is being taken seriously around the world, and for good reason.