biological warfare

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biological warfare,

employment in war of microorganisms to injure or destroy people, animals, or crops; also called germ or bacteriological warfare. Limited attempts have been made in the past to spread disease among the enemy; e.g., military leaders in the French and Indian WarsFrench and Indian Wars,
1689–1763, the name given by American historians to the North American colonial wars between Great Britain and France in the late 17th and the 18th cent.
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 tried to spread smallpox among the Native Americans. Biological warfare has scarcely been used in modern times and was prohibited by the 1925 Geneva Convention. However, many nations in the 20th cent. have conducted research to develop suitable military microorganisms, including strains of smallpox, anthrax, plague, and some nonlethal agents. Such microorganisms can be delivered by animals (especially rodents or insects) or by aerosol packages, built into artillery shells or the warheads of ground-to-ground or air-to-ground missiles and released into the atmosphere to infect by inhalation.

In 1972 the United States and the Soviet Union adopted an agreement, endorsed by the UN General Assembly and now ratified by more than 140 nations, to destroy existing stockpiles of biological weapons and refrain from developing or stockpiling new biological weapons. The treaty does allow research for defensive purposes, such as to develop antidotes to biological weapons. After the fall of the Soviet Union, however, it was disclosed that the Soviets had secretly increased research and production of a wide variety of deadly biological agents. Although Russian president Boris Yeltsin publicly ordered (1992) the abandonment of germ warfare, some expressed suspicion about the continued production of biological weapons in post–cold war Russia.

With the rise of extremist groups and the disintegration of the established international political order in the late 20th cent., biological weapons again began to be perceived as a serious threat. In the 1990s, after the Persian Gulf WarPersian Gulf Wars,
two conflicts involving Iraq and U.S.-led coalitions in the late 20th and early 21st cent.

The First Persian Gulf War, also known as the Gulf War, Jan.–Feb.
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, five hidden germ-warfare laboratories and stockpiles of anthrax, botulism, and gas gangrene bacteria were discovered in Iraq. In addition to Iraq and Russia, North Korea, Iran, Egypt, Israel, China, and other nations are suspected of various violations of the 1972 agreement.

In 2001, shortly after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, anthrax was sent through the mail in bioterrorist attacks against several locations in the United States. There was, however, no clear connection between the two terror attacks. In an attempt to develop a warning system for a bioterror attack, the Environmental Protection Agency's air quality monitoring system was adapted (2003) to permit detection of an outdoor release of smallpox and other pathogens. Such a system, however, would not have detected the narrowly focused indoor anthrax attacks of 2001.

See also chemical warfarechemical warfare,
employment in war of incendiaries, poison gases, and other chemical substances. Ancient armies attacking or defending fortified cities threw burning oil and fireballs. A primitive type of flamethrower was employed as early as the 5th cent. B.C.
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See study by J. Miller et al. (2001).

biological warfare

[¦bī·ə¦läj·ə·kəl ′wȯr‚fer]
Abbreviated BW.
Employment of living microorganisms, toxic biological products, and plant growth regulators to produce death or injury in humans, animals, or plants.
Defense against such action.
References in periodicals archive ?
April 20 /PRNewswire/ -- BW Fuel, manufacturer and distributor of BioWeapon Green Racing Fuel, is pleased to have been invited by Rich Christensen from the hit SPEED TV show PINKS ALL OUT to participate in the Media Day celebrating Earth Day 2010.
Tabletop exercises and simulated bioterrorism events have demonstrated that neither public health law nor emergency management law could currently support an effective re sponse to a major bioweapons event.
Recent validation testing of the GeneCode System for bioweapons applications proved the product to be highly reproducible in the hands of independent labs," added Gary Madsen, Ph.
Aum Shinrikyo is purported to have spent $20 million in its pursuit of an effective bioweapon.
Over the past two years, the group has published recommendations in JAMA for responding to potential terrorist use of smallpox, anthrax, plague, and botulism bioweapons.
There is a growing concern with the potential for terrorist use of biological weapons (bioweapons) to cause civilian harm (1-5) This concern has been focused around two assumptions: that a terrorist is most likely to effectively disperse bioweapons through air (3), and that we must be prepared to address terrorist use of bioweapons through treatment of affected individuals, with emphasis on strengthening the response of the health-care community (3,5,6).
Although brucellosis is a rare disease in the United States, its potential use as a bioweapon highlights the need for accurate and rapid identification (15).
Others Islamic extremists with similar expertise are believed to be associated with al Qaeda and have the ability to produce a bioweapon.
Even if the chances of an attack on America with bioweapons are low, the consequences of such an attack are so great that we must prepare for it.
In addition, we will continue our work on the genome sequencing of organisms most likely to be used as bioweapons, so that we can not only quickly identify the biological agent, but also develop effective therapies.
The delay in recognizing when a bioweapon has been released could be days to weeks," he said.
If Francisella tularensis were to be used as a bioweapon, the bacteria would likely be made airborne.