News

USIS Washington 
File

20 February 1998

FACT SHEET: ANTHRAX IS PREFERRED BIOLOGICAL WARFARE AGENT

(Defense Department cites its lethality) (570)



(The following fact sheet on anthrax was issued by the Department of
Defense in December 1997)


Anthrax is the preferred biological warfare agent because:



     It is highly lethal.



-- 100 million lethal doses per gram of anthrax material (100,000
times deadlier than the deadliest chemical warfare agent).
      -- Silent, invisible killer.

      -- Inhalational anthrax is virtually always fatal.



     There are low barriers to production.



       -- Low cost of producing the anthrax material.

       -- Not high-technology. Knowledge is widely available.

       -- Easy to produce in large quantities.



     It is easy to weaponize.



-- It is extremely stable. It can be stored almost indefinitely as a
dry powder.
-- It can be loaded, in a freeze-dried condition, in munitions or
disseminated as an aerosol with crude sprayers.


     Currently, we have a limited detection capability.





What is Anthrax?



Anthrax is a naturally occurring disease of plant eating animals
(goats, sheep, cattle, wine, etc.) caused by the bacterium Bacillus
anthracis.


It is an illness which has been recognized since antiquity. Anthrax
was common in essentially all areas where livestock are raised.
Intensive livestock immunization programs have greatly reduced the
occurrence of the disease among both animals and humans in much of the
world, and most outbreaks occur in areas where immunization programs
have not been implemented or have become compromised (primarily Africa
and Asia; however, outbreaks occurred during the mid-1990s in Haiti
and the former Soviet Union).


Anthrax spores can remain viable for several decades under suitable
environmental conditions; thus, absence of cases does not equate to
absence of risk.


      Humans can contract anthrax in three ways:



-- Through cuts or breaks in the skin resulting from contact with an
infected animal (cutaneous anthrax), resulting in local and possibly
systemic (bloodstream) infection.
-- From breathing anthrax spores (termed "woolsorters" disease)
resulting in an infection of the lungs (inhalational anthrax).
-- From eating infected meat, resulting in gastrointestinal infection
(gastrointestinal anthrax). Gastrointestinal anthrax is generally not
considered a threat to U.S. forces.




What are the symptoms?



Symptoms of anthrax begin after a one to six day incubation period
following exposure.


-- For contact or cutaneous anthrax, itching will occur at the site of
exposure followed by the formation of a lesion. Untreated contact
anthrax has a fatality rate of five to 20 percent, but with effective
antibiotic treatment, few deaths occur.
-- Initial symptoms for inhalational anthrax are generally
non-specific: low grade fever, a dry hacking cough, and weakness. The
person may briefly improve after two to four days; however within 24
hours after this brief improvement, respiratory distress occurs with
shock and death following shortly thereafter.


Almost all cases of inhalational anthrax, in which treatment was begun
after patients have exhibited symptoms, have resulted in death,
regardless of post-exposure treatment.




What is the medical countermeasure?



-- Prior to exposure, prevention through vaccination, using the FDA
(Food and Drug Agency)-licensed vaccine.
-- Otherwise, antibiotics such as penicillin, ciprofloxacin, and
doxycycline are the drugs of choice for treatment of anthrax.
-- Treatment with antibiotics must begin prior to the onset of
symptoms and must include vaccination prior to discontinuing their
use.
-- The use of antibiotics keep the patient alive until their body can
build an immunity to anthrax via vaccination. After symptoms appear
however, inhalational anthrax is almost always fatal, regardless of
treatment.