An Overview of Biological Weapons
Are biological weapons a likely threat? Should I be worried?
Throughout human history, viruses, bacteria, diseases, and fungi have led to tremendous loss of life and societal damage.
COVID-19 and the invasion of Ukraine have called the public's attention to Biolabs, which conducts morally and ethically questionable research on viruses, bacteria, and diseases that could be used as biological weapons.
In the past, people couldn't travel as much or as quickly as they do now. Air travel and open borders make it much easier for a released biological agent to spread worldwide. Just consider how fast COVID-19 has spread throughout the world.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Biological Weapons Throughout History
Biological Hazard Examples
Masks for Disease Prevention
Frequently Asked Questions
In many ways, biological agents are the perfect weapon. Consider the following:
Bioweapons do not require combat or ballistics to release.
Biological weapons can be designed to target specific genetics, at least to some degree.
The cost of releasing a biological attack is far less than that of, say, an invasion.
Bioweapons can be released remotely, keeping the attackers safe. In the case of a foreign power, their people can remain safe while the biological agent wrecks havoc on their enemies abroad.
A released agent may not be detectable until it is too late for anyone to do anything about it.
Long incubation times allow an agent to spread stealthily throughout a population.
Bioweapons are a silent attack. We would notice explosions or an invasion, but we wouldn't see that we've breathed something in or come into contact with a virus until symptoms appear.
It can be hard to prove that a specific entity released a bioweapon unless they make it a point to take credit for it. That can lead to a lot of finger-pointing and chaos.
Bioweapons don't require a lot of energy, unlike a regular war or even typical terrorist activities.
Over the next few decades, it's hard to imagine that we won't see more highly pathogenic viruses that seem to come out of nowhere. With so much funding for this type of research, it seems impossible that some of that knowledge will not be used for nefarious purposes. Even if you believe this research is being done solely in the name of science, consider that no one is perfect, and accidents happen. While some believe COVID-19 was intentionally released, there is also a good chance that the release was due to human error. That's not to say someone wouldn't have intentionally released it later.
In this article, I show you humanity's dark history of using bioweapons, which goes beyond the middle ages. And there's no sign we're close to stopping exploring and using these nature-based weapons.
Further, I show you what you need to mentally and physically prepare for a potential biological attack.
Biological Weapons Throughout History
If you think that biological warfare is a new thing, you are sorely mistaken. Biological warfare has been happening for centuries in various forms.
The Middle Ages
While people weren't playing with biological agents in labs in the middle ages, they did know about using disease as a weapon. This was typically accomplished by launching decaying and/or diseased corpses over enemy walls and fortifications. Personal protective gear was minimal back then, and plague masks and gloves were all there were.
Smallpox and Native Americans
A gift of blankets sounds like a nice gesture, but not when they are infected with the smallpox virus. In 1763, the British gave Native Americans blankets that carried smallpox, a disease of European origin that they had no natural resistance to.
Spanish Flu: Bioweapon research or naturally occurring?
There are theories that the Spanish Flu resulted from bioweapons research and that it was accidentally released. Regardless of whether this is true, the Spanish Flu is a perfect example of a virus that lost potency over time. Viruses frequently mutate so that they can continue to spread and thrive. The Spanish Flu did not simply go away. We still have a significant flu season, and many people die yearly, but fewer than when the Spanish Flu was rampant during 1917–18.
The Spanish Flu pandemic killed at least 50 million people, and some estimates are as high as 100 million. It's important to remember that this flu came when most of Europe was reeling from the destruction and death caused by WWI. People were not at their healthiest, so a virulent virus could quickly spread through the population, especially with so many people traveling between various towns and countries because of the war.
Japanese Plague Bombs over Chinese Cities
In 1940, Japanese planes dropped porcelain "bombs" containing plague-infested fleas over Chinese cities, leading to many outbreaks.
(Image courtesy of Japan testing biological weapons during WW2. )
Post-9/11 Anthrax Attacks
After 9/11, there were several incidents in which a strange white powder was mailed to people. The substance turned out to be the highly fatal anthrax bacteria. To this day, little is known about the mailings, and numerous conspiracy theories persist. One such approach is that the FBI and CIA were behind the mailings to stir up anti-Muslim sentiment to get people to back a significant war in the Middle East.
From the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was suspicion that the virus was created in a biolab in Wuhan, China. More than two years later, the evidence that this is the case is quite staggering. That being said, no official statement, agency, or lab has claimed responsibility for the virus that shut down the world and continues to cause economic and societal damage.
However, COVID-19 made the public aware of the many questionable biolabs worldwide that research, increasing the virulence and transmissibility of such viruses. This awareness will hopefully prevent some research from continuing or at least make people think twice before they manipulate and combine viruses that, if released, could be life-changing or destroying.
Lab-created viruses are notoriously unstable. They have not had the time to adapt to natural conditions, so they tend to mutate into a less deadly form. After all, from a biological standpoint, it is not beneficial to kill the host before the virus has a chance to spread. Perhaps that's why at the beginning of COVID-19, the death rate was very high, and it seemed to be even more contagious.
Biological Hazard Examples
The threats on this list are those classified by the CDC as Schedule A. This is by no means a comprehensive list of everything out there that can cause a problem.
(Image courtesy of CDC)
Naturally occurring anthrax outbreaks are rare. Anthrax is an exceptionally infectious disease caused by a bacterium known as Bacillus anthracis. Symptoms can take one day to two months to appear, depending on the type of infection. While people generally think that anthrax must be inhaled to cause illness, it can enter the body via food, water, or cuts and scrapes.
How soon symptoms appear depends on how fast the bacterium multiplies. Although anthrax has been used as a bioweapon, it is naturally occurring.
The botulism fungus is a highly deadly toxin that grows in food, particularly low-acid foods that are improperly preserved. Strangely enough, it can also eliminate wrinkles and lines. Botox is a form of botulism toxin that is injected into the skin.
Proper food preservation methods have reduced the likelihood of a botulism outbreak, but it could pop up at any time since it is naturally occurring.
Infected fleas carry plague. Any mammal can contract or carry the plague. Lack of sanitation and hygiene in the Middle Ages allowed the plague to kill one-third of the population of Europe. Good hygiene and sanitation practices have gone a long way toward eliminating plague. However, it occasionally emerges in countries with dense populations and poor sanitation. Plague is curable with proper antibiotic treatment and is less likely to cause severe problems if diagnosed and treated early.
(Image courtesy of By Don Eddins - This media comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Public Health Image Library (PHIL), with identification number #16057)
Poxes are still a big problem. Recently, we've seen a significant outbreak of Monkeypox. Smallpox led to a massive population drop in North America. It is a disfiguring disease that has mostly been eradicated due to successful vaccination programs. Nowadays, people are not even vaccinated for smallpox, although the US government keeps a stock of vaccines on hand just in case. Members of the last generation vaccinated for smallpox in the US are in their 50s and 60s. The World Health Organization declared smallpox eradicated in 1980, but there is still a fear that it will somehow re-emerge in another form.
Known as "rabbit fever," Tularemia is most often found in rodent family members. Humans can become infected through tick and fly bites, drinking contaminated water, or inhaling landscaping dust. Symptoms include fever and ulcerous lesions. Rabbit fever can be transmitted when butchering infected animals or tanning hides.
(Tularemia’s effect on the blood. )
Viral Hemorrhagic Fevers
Ebola is an example of a hemorrhagic fever that is highly contagious. Ebola symptoms appear quickly, and the host typically dies soon after, making Ebola outbreaks more localized than diseases with symptoms that do not occur for days or weeks. Ebola symptoms include bleeding from the eyes.
One of the reasons COVID-19 spread so well is that people typically didn't have symptoms until they were already contagious. They sometimes never showed any symptoms but still spread the virus.
Masks for Disease Prevention
Harm can be reduced or eliminated during any hazardous biological situation by using a proper mask and practicing good hygiene, such as frequent hand washing and disinfection.
Many masks protect against biological threats, but some are better than others.
As their name suggests, these respirators only protect the respiratory passage. They do not cover the eyes or the skin of the face. Not all biological threats require full-face protection; however, half-face respirators give the advantages of better vision, lighter weight, and are generally more comfortable to wear for extended periods.
MIRA Safety Tactical Air-Purifying Respirator (TAPR)
The TAPR is an excellent solution for those who want the lightweight full-breathing protection of a half-face respirator. The TAPR can be worn with most glasses or goggles without a specialized spectacle kit. The TAPR makes excellent sense for an EDC bag because it can fit in a modestly-sized purse or fanny pack.
For just biological threats, MIRA Safety ParticleMax P3 filters offer total protection at a fraction of the price of traditional CBRN filters. P-100 filters are also lighter and more comfortable to wear over a long period than CBRN filters.
However, the TAPR is not suitable where full-face protection is needed to protect the skin from irritants like blister agents.
Disposable masks can quickly become very expensive or impossible to find during a biological event. Shipments may be diverted to medical workers instead of the public, as happened during COVID-19. Disposable N-95 masks provide decent protection, but the expense can add up if you use them as intended and don't try to sanitize and reuse them or, even worse, reuse them for several days.
The flimsy surgical-style masks often handed out during the COVID-19 pandemic met the minimal requirements of wearing some type of mask. They do not seal properly and do not offer as much protection as a P-100 dust mask or even a good old N-95. During a biological event, they would be better than nothing, but they should not be relied on for extended protection, especially for anything particularly virulent.
Full-Face Gas Masks
Of course, a full-face gas mask offers the highest protection from biological agents because it also protects your eyes and facial skin from becoming contaminated. A full-face gas mask also means you don't have to worry about carrying separate glasses or goggles.
MIRA Safety CM-6M and CM-7M
The MIRA Safety CM-6M full-face gas mask is an excellent choice for total protection from biological threats when used with P-100 or CBRN filters. Unlike gas masks with a single filter, you can use two filters with the CM-6M. This increases your airflow and reduces the need for filter changes when you wear a mask for an extended period.
The MIRA Safety CM-7M offers the same excellent protection as the CM-6M, but its field of view is better for optics such as riflescopes.
If you wear glasses, remember that you either need contact lenses with a gas mask or purchase a spectacle kit in your prescription. The frames of glasses make it impossible to get a proper seal around the mask. The MIRAVISION Spectacle kit is an affordable choice that integrates easily with MIRA Safety masks.
Note on Surplus Gas Masks and Cartridges
There are many surplus gas masks and cartridges for sale online. Before you are tempted to buy one of these masks, you need to know what you will likely get.
Cartridges near their expiration date
On average, gas mask cartridges have a 10–20 year shelf life, and the expiration date indicates when the cartridge is not guaranteed to offer reliable protection. Even if the cartridge and mask have been appropriately stored, nothing can stop the deterioration that occurs as the fibers age. Therefore, the excellent price for the mask is probably because the filters will expire in a few years. That's not a great deal if you want to have a mask on hand for emergencies in the years to come.
Masks that have been stored in unknown conditions
Surplus items can change hands more than you might expect. There's no way to know how surplus masks have been stored, so the rubber may not be in the best condition, even if the mask has never been out of the box.
During actual biological warfare, do you want to trust a surplus mask? Is saving a few dollars in the short term worth the risk?
Other Gear To Protect Against Biological Weapons
Biological warfare agents are specifically engineered to be particularly virulent. Because of this, just a gas mask usually isn't enough to protect oneself fully. This is where other layers of PPE are needed.
PAPR stands for "Powered Air Purifying Respirator." A PAPR is used with a hood or gas mask to provide a constant flow of clean, filtered air. A PAPR makes breathing much easier while wearing a gas mask, so many users who typically cannot wear a full face mask because of reduced lung capacity can wear it for a long time without any significant risks.
As young children do not have the lung capacity to wear a full-face respirator, they must have a PAPR unit to wear a mask safely.
The MIRA Safety MB-90 PAPR offers outstanding airflow and reliability at an affordable price. Many other PAPR units on the market use proprietary batteries that you recharge. With the MIRA Safety MD-90, you can use ordinary AA batteries and buy extra battery packs. You can keep the extras loaded and ready to switch out during extended use.
Protecting all of your body can be challenging. A professional-grade hazmat suit can do the job, but not all are created equal. Many industries, especially the medical industry, use disposable Tyvek suits designed for single use. Since they are made of thin material, they are prone to tearing and unsuitable for more rigorous activities.
The MIRA Safety Haz Suit is puncture and abrasion resistant in youth and adult sizes. With Haz Suits, it's essential to get the correct size. Suits should be loose enough to move comfortably in but not so loose that they are a tripping hazard.
Boots that cover your regular footwear are recommended when you have to be in an area potentially contaminated with biological agents. MIRA Safety Haz-Mat Butyl Overboots protect against a variety of CBRN threats.
Gloves are a vital part of personal protection against biologicals. Disposable nitrile and latex gloves are standard, but like any disposable personal protective equipment, they are usually thin and designed for single-use and light-duty tasks. Heavy-duty butyl gloves that extend up your forearm offer the best protection.
We recommend our NC-11 Protective CBRN Gloves for CBRN situations. They are impermeable to biological weapons, can be worn for 30 days straight without losing their protective ability against chemical weapons, and have a shelf life of 15 years.
Anywhere two pieces of gear or clothing meet is a potential contamination spot. Kappler ChemTape is designed for use at these junctures, such as where your boots and gloves meet your hazmat suit.
Biological Warfare Preparation
It's crucial to stay prepared for biological incidents during these uncertain times. Fortunately, many things you need to do to be prepared are the same as any emergency. It would be best if you were ready to stay home for an extended period.
Have at least a few weeks of food and water on hand. A few months or more is even better. Freeze-dried foods are more expensive than traditional foods, but you can fit a lot more food in a small space, making it the best choice for those living in apartments or dorm rooms or often moving for work or school
Medical supplies and prescription medications
Something for entertainment because staying home for several weeks or longer can get dull
Food and supplies for pets
Toiletries and hygiene items
Items for very young children, such as formula and diapers
Radios for communication and news
As we learned during COVID-19, shortages can occur quickly and become normal. Buying things when you know there is a problem contributes to shortages at stores. It's best to stock up when conditions are somewhat normal, purchasing a little extra at a time. This also helps you budget extra supplies without spending a lot all at once.
Radios that can be used to talk to others from a distance are invaluable because they help you stay aware of the local situation without putting yourself at risk. An emergency radio also allows you to hear any news or emergency information broadcasts, even if your electricity is out.
In the event of biological war, you may need to stay at home and minimize contact with those outside your family for months, depending on how harmful the threats are and how continuous the attacks are.
(Image courtesy of US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in training. )
Only be tempted to leave your property once you have at least some idea of your situation or have allowed some time to pass. Of course, at some point, everyone has to leave their place. During the COVID-19 situation, I didn't leave our property for several months because I did not need to do so, and at the time, no one was sure how serious COVID was. It was better to be safe and not risk getting infected and bringing it home to others.
During a biological incident, you must be careful if anyone in your family or close circle has a compromised immune system. Pregnant individuals need to avoid contact with anyone they don't have to be around, which can be challenging. While pregnant during COVID-19, I was very isolated. I only went to doctor's appointments and visited with a few family members on rare occasions.
Prepare yourself mentally.
Isolation is more difficult for some people than for others. Maintaining good mental health during a biological event is extremely valuable, and your mindset can influence others and even make a difference in their chances of survival.
Avoid or leave densely populated areas if you can.
Suppose you live outside a sizeable metropolitan area and can isolate yourself from regions of significant infection. In that case, it's one of the best things you can do to prevent your family from being affected. This may mean staying out of major population centers for a long time.
While everyone leaving a population center, regardless of infection status, leads to more spread if you are aware of a problem and can protect yourself. At the same time, if you evacuate to a safer location, such as your bug-out cabin, you should do so.
Weapons Created are Weapons Used
There's good reason to believe that biological warfare will be a problem in the future. In fact, much of our future may be determined by just how much governments and terrorist groups pursue the use of microbes to achieve both short- and long-term goals.
Temporary rules and restrictions have a way of becoming permanent. If there is another pandemic, it's hard to imagine that lockdowns and restrictions won't be even more of a problem and have a more significant impact on the economy and society in general.
What are your thoughts on the subject? What biological weapons are you most concerned about? How do you think one should prepare? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
The carnage of WWI led to the Geneva Protocol being enacted on June 17, 1925. While this banned countries from using chemical or bacteriological weapons for war, it did not ban researching, developing, or producing bioweapons. Only 39 countries agreed to its terms, and so far, more countries have not agreed to its terms than have. Of course, suppose a weapon is "accidentally" released by a government that signed the Geneva Protocol. In that case, it could be complicated to prove ill intent, especially if it was not done during a war.
There are a lot of accusations and a lot of speculation involved in this question. Still, it's relatively certain that Egypt, China, Russia, Syria, Libya, and North Korea are engaged in the research of biowarfare agents.