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Bio-Terrrorism /Anthrax as a WMD - Essay Example

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Anthrax is one of the oldest recorded pathogens and one that is of particular concern as a bioterrorism agent because of both its potency in small amounts, relative ease of productions, and resilience to heat and environmental factors. Anthrax commonly refers to the hardy spores of the bacteria Bacillus anthracis, the etiologic agent of anthrax…
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Anthrax is one of the oldest recorded pathogens and one that is of particular concern as a bioterrorism agent because of both its potency in small amounts, relative ease of productions, and resilience to heat and environmental factors. Anthrax commonly refers to the hardy spores of the bacteria Bacillus anthracis, the etiologic agent of anthrax. If left untreated, within a short period of time symptoms become lethal and are irreversibly fatal. Modern techniques for surveillance and distinction of strains play a role in identifying and controlling both naturally occurring and bioterrorism related anthrax outbreaks. Anthrax has already appeared as a potent bioterrorism threat across the globe. Anthrax can be contracted through the skin, by ingestion, or through inhalation, which poses the most concern for bioterrorism threats. Naturally occurring anthrax is rare, with only two hundred and twenty four cases of naturally occurring cutaneous anthrax being diagnosed between 1944 through 1994 in the United States, and even fewer cases of gastrointestinal and inhalation anthrax have been diagnosed. Most naturally occurring anthrax can be linked to ingestion or handling of contaminated animal products, such as meats or leathers. In fact, under favorable conditions for bacterial growth B. anthracis exists as a vegetative bacteria, or one that is growing and replicating. This form of bacteria rarely causes infection; however, when conditions become less favorable anthrax produces live, sticky spores that are highly infective (Anthrax: FAQ, 2009). The likelihood of naturally occurring anthrax infection is low and normally easily linked with animal product handling. The anthrax spores, though very infective when airborne, have a sticky surface and normally will adhere to surfaces and are difficult to put back in the air once settled (Anthrax: FAQ, 2009). Human intervention, as in bioterrorism, can change that. This makes cases easy to identify based on the fact that the conditions for inhalation anthrax infection rarely occur without human intervention. In addition, specific DNA mutations allow law enforcement laboratories and researchers to identify distinct anthrax strains and make estimates as to their origin. In fact, over 1200 strains shave been identified, including the rare “Florida” strain identified in the 2001 anthrax letter case (Khardori, 2011). Naturally occurring anthrax cases are rare and can be distinguished from bioterrorist activities based on the origin on the threat, which can be identified by causative factors like animal product handling or through advanced DNA marker analysis in investigative laboratories. Anthrax bioterrorism may be further distinguished from naturally occurring cases by special treatment of spores, usually notable to laboratory investigators. Bioterrorists may chemical and mechanically enhance anthrax spores by milling them into a size optimal for pulmonary inhalation and infection, allowing them to easily penetrate the alveolar sacs in the lungs. Because these forms do not occur naturally, the size of spores can be indicative of bioterrorism if a sample of the original spores is available for analysis. In addition, spores can be electrostatically coated to allow them to more easily be suspended in the air and extend the After such treatment, anthrax spores can be added to invisible, odorless aerosols, giving a single gram of anthrax the ability to travel hundreds of miles airborne, inflecting tens of thousands of individuals (Anthrax: FAQ, 2009). The indicative size and coating of spores can let investigators know whether the spores are naturally occurring or have been modified by human means. The inhalation for of anthrax is a white powder that can be suspended in the air, and less than one millionth of a gram is needed to cause infection. In fact, infection can occur if even a single spore penetrated the body’s defenses (Khardori, 2011). It is heat and weather resistant, making it the perfect bioterrorism agent. This was seen when anthrax was sent in US Postal Service envelopes in 2001, seeking to infect unsuspecting victims. The three letters were disseminated by mail, and finally tracked back to a US army medical research institute by criminal investigators (Cunha and Stuart, 2011). Its high lethality and ease of distribution make anthrax a potent bioterrorism threat. The anthrax threat is not new in international news. Some historians believe that anthrax was responsible for the fifth biblical plague described in Genesis of the Old Testament, and anthrax was described by the Greeks and Romans who coined the name based on the black appearance of the anthrax vegetative form. Anthrax has been recognized as a biologic warfare agent in contemporary times, seen first in the Gulf War. Large scale production of over 8500 L of anthrax was reportedly produced in Iraq during this period. In response, the United States vaccinated over 150,000 military members against the pathogen using anthrax toxinoid (Cunha and Stuart, 2011). Anthrax is a particularly viable bioterrorism threat because the pathogen is naturally occurring, relatively easy to attain, extremely easy to disseminate, and the chemical and biological procedures for anthrax growth are readily available in medical literature. Anthrax has been highly investigated for its historical significance and as a weapon of mass destruction that has poses a real threat in the contemporary era. From reported production of large quantities of anthrax during the Gulf War to the 2001 anthrax letters, it has been demonstrated than very small amounts of anthrax can be lethally applied as bioterrorism agents able to simultaneously infect hundreds of thousands of people over hundreds of square miles from a single source. Additionally, modern chemical modification of anthrax can make the pathogen even more dangerous and easy to spread across large distances. One positive note, however, is that chemical treatment or genetic modification gives investigators clues as to the origin of anthrax spores and infections, and these factors can allow investigators to distinguish between naturally occurring anthrax and anthrax bioterrorism. References Anthrax: FAQ (2009). Journal of the American Medical Association Online Content. Retrieved from Cunha, Burke; and Stuart, Michael. (2011). Anthrax Background. MedScape Reference. Retrieved from Danzig, R, et al. (1997). Why should we be concerned about biological warfare? Journal of the American Medical Association, 278, 431-432. Khardori, Nancy. (2011). Anthrax: Bacteriology, Clinical Presentations and Management. SIU School of Medicine. Retrieved from Read More
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