What is Bioterrorism?

Bioterrorism is the deliberate and intentional release of biological agents such as viruses, bacteria, toxins, or other harmful agents to cause illness or death among humans, food crops, and livestock to terrorize the civilian population. They are very harmful because they can be altered, tailored, or mutated. A small quantity is enough to bring about a disastrous effect. It is also referred to as ‘Germ Warfare’. This article helps one understand the various facets of bioterrorism.

This is a relevant topic for IAS exam aspirants.

What is the Deadliest Biological weapon?

Some of the deadliest biological weapons that have been used are listed below.

Anthrax

Anthrax was caused by bacteria named Bacillus Anthracis. It is one of the deadliest agents to be used as a biological weapon. It has been used with food, water, spray, powders. It is completely tasteless and odourless.

Botulinum Toxin

It is caused by naturally found bacteria named Clostridium Botulinum. It can be used by contaminating food and water. It was known to be used by Japan on Prisoners of War (POW) during the occupation of Manchuria.

Francisella Tularensis

As per a former Soviet Union scientist, this was used as a biological weapon against the Nazi Army of Germany by the Soviet Union Army in the Battle of Stalingrad of World War II.

Aflatoxin

Iraq had produced and deployed different weapons armed with Aflatoxin. It was noted by the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) in 1995. However, it was destroyed during the Gulf War.

How is Bioterrorism More Dangerous Compared to Other Forms of Terrorism?

Bioterrorism is dangerous because:

  1. Biological agents are attractive tools of terrorism as they are relatively easy and inexpensive to obtain.
  2. The virus can be easily disseminated.
  3. It can cause widespread fear and panic beyond the actual physical damage it can cause.
  4. The risk of massive destruction of life is too high.
  5. They can be used in very minute quantities but the effects are life-risking.
  6. Their presence can’t be detected faster as they take time to develop and cause widespread and disastrous spread.

What are the Types of Bioterrorism Agents?

There are 3 types of agents used based on the ability and extent of damage that can be caused. They are:

  1. Category A: High-priority agents. Example: Anthrax, Ebola virus.
  2. Category B: Moderate-priority agents. Example: Brucellosis, Q fever
  3. Category C: Low-priority agents. Example: Yellow fever virus, Hantavirus.

Biological and Toxic Weapons Convention 1972.

  1. This agreement was signed in 1972.
  2. It came into force in 1975.
  3. As of 2019, 109 countries have signed the treaty and 183 nations are party to this treaty. Tanzania was the most recent country to become a party to the treaty.
  4. It was the 1st multilateral disarmament treaty to ban the production of Biological Weapons.
  5. It bans the nations from producing, stockpiling, acquiring, or retaining biological agents that can be used as weapons.
  6. India ratified this treaty in 2015.
  7. The State parties review the operations of this treaty at the Review Conferences. So far 8 review conferences have been held.
  8. The 8th Review Conference was held in 2016 in Geneva. It was a disappointing conference as they could not achieve any meaningful outcome.
  9. The next review conference i.e. 9th review conference will be held in Geneva in 2021.

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Frequently asked Questions about Bioterrorism

What is the aim of Bioterrorism?

The goal of bioterrorism is usually to create fear and/or intimidate governments or societies for the purpose of gaining political, religious, or ideological goals. Bioterrorism may have a different effect on societies than would weapons such as explosives.

What is the earliest known example of bioterrorism?

One of the first recorded uses of biological warfare occurred in 1347, when Mongol forces are reported to have catapulted plague-infested bodies over the walls into the Black Sea port of Caffa (now Feodosiya, Ukraine), at that time a Genoese trade centre in the Crimean Peninsula.

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