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What is Biological Warfare?

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  • Written By: Phil Shepley
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 01 December 2016
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Biological warfare, also referred to as germ warfare, is the use of harmful microorganisms such as viruses or bacteria by military factions or terrorists against, civilians, opposing militaries, crops or animals. The organisms that are used may work by producing harmful poisons or toxins either before or after they are dispatched. It may not be necessary to release a large amount a biological weapon, since some types of deadly agents have the potential to kill even millions of people by releasing only trace amounts.

Biological warfare may be used in several different ways by a military outfit or other people with harmful intentions. The most common perception of the use of biological agents is that they are intended to kill massive amounts of soldiers and civilians, but there are many ways that they could be utilized. Less harmful germs could possibly be distributed among enemy soldiers to make them too sick to fight. Another effective use of microorganisms is to use them to kill or damage the food crops of the enemy for the purpose of cutting off their food supply, and this can include livestock as well as major plant-based food staples.

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In 1969 in the United States, former U.S. President Richard M. Nixon declared that the country would no longer use biological warfare against other countries. This type of fighting was banned through an international treaty in 1975, and it also includes the possession and production of biological weapons. However, military strategists must still, to this day, take into account the possible illegal use of biological warfare by the enemy. For this reason, there is constant research throughout the scientific world that is devoted to defense against a multitude of biological attack scenarios. These include terrorist attacks, also referred to as bioterrorism, which could potentially happen anywhere at any time.

For a biological weapon to be effective, it must be able to travel quickly and over a broad area. It must also be difficult to be remedied. For instance, if it is a disease, the vaccine must be hard to come by or nonexistent. Anthrax is a type of biological warfare that, if produced correctly, could be spread by air over a wide area and infect its target rather quickly. Since the effects of anthrax are not transferred between people or animals by normal means such as breathing, anthrax can easily be confined to a target area. However, this area has the potential to be very large and will remain contaminated for a long time after the weapon has been released because of the heightened strength of a contaminant that has been manufactured specifically as a biological weapon.

Other agents that have been used or schemed as biological warfare against people include cholera, smallpox, and yellow fever, to name only a few. Since there are so many varieties, those concerned with defending against biological attacks must be prepared to identify the type of germs or toxins as quickly as possible through a wide range of methods. The toxins and poisons produced by biological weapons are often also considered to be types of chemical warfare. There is a good deal of research that is done in both the fields of biological and chemical warfare simultaneously since they can be so closely interrelated.

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