What comes to your mind when you think of WAR? If it was about a century ago, then we would think about soldiers marching forward on horses or cavalry with spears and swords, shooting arrows and all the things we imagine. If it was about half a century ago, it would be all the huge tankers and guns in action. We have now reached a stage where it is now all cyberwar and biowar.
So let us now see about Biowarfare, which is one of the most dangerous forms of war
What is Bio War?
The Wiki definition goes like this Biological warfare (BW)—also known as germ warfare—is the use of biological toxins or infectious agents such as bacteria, viruses, insects, and fungi intending to kill or incapacitate humans, animals or plants as an act of war.
The act can range from a simple hoax to the actual use of these biological weapons, also referred to as agents. If some country goes for a biowar it can be so deadly especially in this modern era where we have genetic editing tools. If a natural virus-like Corona can cause such huge damage to humankind, just imagine how deadly can a man-made virus be…
Let’s see the history of biowar now
The history of biological warfare is long, which makes sense; its deployment can be a Lo-Fi affair, so there is no need for electrical components, nuclear fusion, or rocket grade titanium, for instance.
An early example takes us back over two and a half millennia: Assyrians infected their enemy’s wells with a rye ergot fungus, which contains chemicals related to LSD. Consuming the tainted water produced a confused mental state, hallucinations, and, sometimes, death.
We need to keep in mind biological warfare’s potential scope, unpredictability, and terrifying simplicity.
During World War I, German and French agents use glanders and anthrax on enemies.
During World War II, many of the parties involved looked into biological warfare with significant interest. The Allies built facilities capable of mass-producing anthrax spores, brucellosis, and botulism toxins. Thankfully, the war ended before they were used.
It was the Japanese who made the most use of biological weapons during World War II, as among other terrifyingly indiscriminate attacks, the Japanese Army Air Force dropped ceramic bombs full of fleas carrying the bubonic plague on Ningbo, China.
The most recent known case of biowar or bioterrorism was in September and October 2001, when several cases of anthrax broke out in the United States, apparently caused deliberately. Letters laced with infectious anthrax were concurrently delivered to news media offices and the U.S Congress, alongside an ambiguously related case in Chile. The letters killed 5.
This was when countries used existing viruses only but today we have the technology to make news biological entities that can be a thousand times more dangerous than existing microbes.
There are many more examples of this biowar that have happened in history. Below links have more info about biowar in history
Biological weapons are a subset of a larger class of weapons referred to as weapons of mass destruction, which also includes chemical, nuclear and radiological weapons. These can pose a difficult public health challenge, causing large numbers of deaths in a short amount of time while being difficult to contain.
Let us now see about a few types of bio-weapons that can be used or have been used.
- Bacteria: Single-cell organisms that cause diseases such as anthrax, brucellosis, tularemia, and plague.
- Rickettsia: Microorganisms that resemble bacteria but differ in that they are intracellular parasites that reproduce inside cells. Typhus and Q fever are examples of diseases caused by rickettsia organisms.
- Viruses: Intracellular parasites, about 1/100 the size of bacteria, that can be weaponized to cause diseases such as Venezuelan equine encephalitis.
- Fungi: Pathogens that can be weaponized for use against crops to cause such diseases as rice blast, cereal rust, wheat smut, and potato blight.
- Toxins: Poisons that can be weaponized after extraction from snakes, insects, spiders, marine organisms, plants, bacteria, fungi, and animals. An example of a toxin is ricin, which is derived from the seed of the castor.
- Black Biology: A shadowy science in which microorganisms are genetically engineered for the sole purpose of creating novel weapons of terror.
The above-mentioned microorganisms are used to create these dangerous bio-weapons. Based on the potential threat from various microorganisms and toxins, we classify them into three categories.
The classification into categories A, B, and C is based on:
- The ability of the agent to be disseminated
- The mortality rate of the agent
- Actions required for public health preparedness
- The capability of causing public panic
Category A agents
These have the highest potential for dissemination and mortality rates. These pose the greatest risk to national security and cause massive public fear and civil disruption. Require the most public health preparedness.
Category A agent include:
- Viral hemorrhagic fevers, etc.
Category B agents
Category B agents are ones that could conceivably threaten water and food safety. Category B agents carry the second-highest priority because they are moderately easy to disseminate and usually result in moderate morbidity.
They are also less lethal in general.
- Q fever
- Ricin toxin
- Hepatitis A
Category C agents
Category C agents carry the third-highest priority. They include emerging pathogens that might be engineered for future mass dissemination.
Examples of Category C agents include:
- Nipah virus
More about these diseases can be found here
How can Bio-Weapons be deployed?
Biological warfare agents can be disseminated in various ways.
- Through the air by aerosol sprays
- Used in explosives
- Put into food or water
- Absorbed through or injected into the skin
- Through Insects (Entomological warfare)
There are a lot fo conspiracy theories coming up which says that the coronavirus pandemic is due to a bio weapon developed by China. Below is a video describing these conspiracies…
We have seen types of bio-weapons and how they can be spread. Now let us move to find out what are the biowar targets.
The main targets of Bio-Weapons are obviously humans. In most of the past bio wars, humans were the targets.
The ideal characteristics of a biological agent to be used as a weapon against humans are high infectivity, high virulence, non-availability of vaccines, and availability of an efficient delivery system.
Stability of the weaponized agent (the ability of the agent to retain its infectivity and virulence after a prolonged period of storage) may also be desirable, particularly for military applications, and the ease of creating one is often considered. Control of the spread of the agent may be another desired characteristic.
Biological warfare can also target plants to destroy crops or defoliate vegetation. Such attacks can affect the enemy’s dependency on food. During World War a few countries especially the US targeted plantation and agricultre using herbicides.
Anti – livestock
Livestock can also be a target in bio wars. In World War I and II many countries attacked livestock and war animals like horses of enemy countries with lethal bioweapons.
In World War I, Germanys’ horses were infected with Burkholderia by French operatives in Switzerland. In World War II, the U.S., and Canada secretly investigated the use of rinderpest, a highly lethal disease of cattle, as a bioweapon.
Consequences of Bio War
Depending on how deadly the Bio-Weapon is, there can be a variety of effects of a Bio War. Let us discuss some of the possible effects during and after a Bio War
- Large Loss of Life: As bio-weapons are very lethal and they spread easily, a lot of deaths will be inevitable.
- Economic Loss: We know that bio-weapons spread through different mediums. Thus, during a bio war, all the industrial and economical activities will be shut and this can cause unimaginable economical loss.
- Psychological Effects: Researches reveal the kind of pandemic situation created by bio war will lead to a lot of fear, stress, and panic which can have a variety of psychological effects on people.
There can be a lot of other effects depending on the weapon like long-lasting contamination on soil, water, air, etc. It will take a lot of time to completely get back to normal conditions.
Biodefense refers to measures to restore biosecurity to a group of organisms who are, or may be, subject to biological threats or infectious diseases. It is frequently discussed in the context of biowar or bioterrorism and is considered a military or emergency response term.
Biodefense applies to two distinct target populations: civilian non-combatant and military combatant (troops in the field). Protection of water supplies and food supplies are often a critical part of biodefense.
Biodefense uses medical measures to protect people against bioterrorism. This includes medicines and vaccinations. It also includes medical research and preparations to defend against bioterrorist attacks.
BioDefense measures include:
- Identification of bio-weapons
- Role of public health and disease surveillance
- Planning and response which comprises being prepared for attacks.
- Response to bioterrorism incident or threat
A bioterrorism attack is the deliberate release of viruses, bacteria, or other germs to cause illness or death. We often find these germs in nature. But they can sometimes be made more harmful by increasing their ability to cause disease, spread, or resist medical treatment.
As we all know, there are a lot of terrorist groups operating around the world. A lot of these groups are too big and control a few nations as well. Several pieces of evidence have revealed that a few of these groups have worked and probably are still working on deadly bioweapons.
One letter to bin Laden reveals that al Qaeda was working on chemical and biological weapons in Iran.
-Michael T. Flynn (Retired US Army Lieutenant General)
The only way out is, all the world countries should join hands and fight against Bioterrorism.
Few Related Movies
Here are some movies related to the usage of Bio-Weapons, pandemics, and the fight against these evil microbes.
28 Days Later
So, after seeing all these things, let us hope that we never have any biowar in any conditions as it can be so deadly that it can wipe out complete human civilization from Earth.