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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Chapter 4

Biological Agents

The avoidance of biological agents requires an understanding of what biological agents are, how they may be used, and what happens to them once they are released. Units can then anticipate when and where biological agents will be used. They can estimate where the hazard is located so avoidance procedures can be initiated.

Biological agents are divided into two broad categories--pathogens and toxins.


Pathogens are infectious agents that cause disease in man, animals, or plants. Agents that constitute antipersonnel biological warfare (BW) threats include bacteria, viruses, and rickettsias (see Appendix B). These are commonly referred to as germs. While the vast majority of microorganisms are harmless or even helpful, there are about 100 naturally occurring pathogens that could be used as biological warfare (BW) agents. Pathogens cause disease (infection) by entering the body through the lungs, digestive tract, through the skin and mucous membranes of body openings.

Once they enter the body, pathogens multiply, overcoming the body's natural defenses, and produce disease. All bacteria do not require living cells for growth. Symptoms most commonly associated with pathogen infection include upper respiratory flu or cold like symptoms, vomiting, diarrhea, pneumonia or skin lesions (spots or rashes). Some pathogens, cause nervous systems damage (headache, paralysis, convulsions, or coma).

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