Infectious Biological Warfare Agents


Anthrax is a warfare agent that can cause mass destruction and fatality. The disease is caused by Bacillus anthracis and can be contracted through the digestive system, abrasions in the skin, or inhalation through the lungs.


Anthrax is transmitted by direct contact with bacteria and spores. The spores are dormant encapsulated bacteria that become active when they enter a living host. There is no person to person spread.

· Skin

AnthraxThe spores enter the skin through cuts and abrasions and are contacted by handling the contaminated animal skin products. The infection starts with an itchy bump, like a mosquito bite that progresses to a small liquid-filled sac. The sac becomes painless ulcer with an area of black, dead tissue in the middle. The toxins destroy the surrounding tissue.

· Gastrointestinal

The infection occurs following the ingestion of contaminated, undercooked meat. The symptoms begin with nausea, loss of appetite and vomiting. The disease progresses to severe abdominal pain, vomiting of blood and severe diarrhea.

· Inhalation

The infection is caused by the inhalation of bacterial spores, which multiply in the alveoli. The disease begins with the same symptoms as the flu, including fever, muscle aches and fatigue. Symptoms suddenly develop and become more severe with the development of breathing problems and shock. The toxins cause hemorrhage and destruction of lung tissue.

The infection is carried to the lymph node, and then spreads to the rest of the body by way of the blood and lymph. The high levels of toxins lead to shock and death. In the lungs, anthrax can cause build up of fluid, tissue decay and death if untreated.

Diagnosis and Treatment

A blood test is available to detect anthrax. The DNA is magnified from the blood sample and matches it to anthrax DNA.

Anthrax is treated with ciprofloxacin, doxycycline or penicillin. Although, there is a vaccine, it is limited in availability.


Botulism is a serious paralytic illness caused by a nerve toxin that is produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum and the infected person may die in 24 hours.

The spore is found in the soil and can spread through the air or food or via contaminated food. Botulism is not spread from person to person.

Signs and Symptoms

· Diarrhea

· Abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting

· Double vision, blurred vision

· Drooping eyelids

· Difficulty speaking of swallowing

· Dry mouth

· Muscle weakness

Botulism can progress to paralysis of the arms, legs, trunk or respiratory muscles wherein mechanical ventilation is necessary.


If diagnosed early, food-borne and wound botulism can be treated with an antitoxin that blocks the action of toxin circulating in the blood. Other treatments include induction of vomiting, enemas and penicillin. There is no vaccine available.

Medical Disaster Plan

External disasters occur in the community, and victims will be brought to the health care facility for care. When the health care agency is notified of a disaster, the medical health team will follow the guidelines specified in the disaster plan of the agency.

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