When the COVID-19 pandemic began, there was a dynamic conspiracy whether (SARS-CoV-2) is a naturally occurring disease or a ‘bioweapon’ created in a lab in Wuhan, China. However, until now there is zero evidence supporting that the virus came from a lab. Diseases like smallpox, COVID-19, influenza spreads in a ‘downwind plume’ pattern which makes it difficult to determine where and how it began, it’s just like a forest fire if unchecked, it keeps on growing. In a biowarfare mass destruction is caused by agents sprayed across a city or battle zone. These lethal weapons are viruses, germs, bacteria that are spread through the air, water, and food. The primary goal is to develop ‘fear’ which is used to threaten citizens and the government. Most of these biological agents are found in nature. With breakthrough innovation, these agents can be changed by terror organizations to make it more fatal. Currently, the entire world is dealing with COVID-19 global impact around 213 countries have reported confirmed cases many government authorities have put restrictive measures to sustain pandemic at the local level. WHO has played a significant role in gathering data and research from the world since February 2020 WHO has prepared over 100 drafts about COVID-19 providing technical guidance on care depending on the illness, how to prevent transmission, how to protect healthcare workers, how to trace quarantine contacts, help health authorities respond appropriately? WHO regularly holds press conferences and has enrolled over 3.7 million on free COVID-19 courses.
THE WORLD’S MOST DANGEROUS BIOWEAPONS
- Bacillus enarthrosis–It is classified as the deadliest agent by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) which causes Anthrax. It has a bioweapon for almost a century. It naturally occurs in soil with certain qualities and is colorless, tasteless, and odorless which makes it a flexible bioweapon. Example- The anthrax bacteria outbreak occurred in Zimbabwe during the cold war which recorded over 9400 cases during 1980.
- Botulinum toxin – It is considered one of the most lethal agents known. It can be distributed by food contamination, water, and air. Naturally, it is found in forest soil, lake sediments, and digestive tubes in some fishes which can cause blurred vision, body weakness, and difficulty in swallowing and speaking. It is believed that 1 gram of the said toxin is enough to kill about one million people.
- Variola major – It is a devastating disease that lasted for 3000 years and killed around 300 million people in the 20th century alone. The virus (Variola major) causes smallpox. Before the vaccination for this disease arrived, an average of 3 out of 10 people died and the ones who survived were left with permanent scars. However, the threat decreased when WHO successfully launched an immunization program in 1967.
- Francisellatularensis – This bacterium is classified as an A category agent by Japanese research units. It is said to cause Tularemia which is extremely infectious. In this case, people experience symptoms like diarrhea, skin ulcer, vomiting, etc. During world war 2 at the battle of Stalingrad (1942-1943), a microbiologist Dr. Kenneth Ailbek chief scientist of the Soviet weapon program used this agent to cut off German troops on the battlefield.
- Ebola virus – It was discovered in the Republic of Congo in 1976. Scientists believe that the virus is an animal-borne which spreads as a result of handling bushmeat. Most of the cases occurred in African countries with an average 50% fatality rate.
HISTORY OF BIOLOGICAL ATTACKS
In the 19th century, the use of biological warfare became more organized because of revolutionary development in modern microbiology which made the stockpiling of agents in isolation more efficient.
World War I – Substantial evidence suggests that during World War I, Germany was involved in using biological agents by sabotaging horses and cattle with disease-producing bacteria (Bacillus anthracis) and Pseudomonas pseudo mallei to the US, Spain, France, Argentina, and Norway. In 1925 Geneva protocol was signed which prohibited the use of poisonous gases and biological agents in war and. The Geneva protocol has a total of 106 nations and 5 permanent members of the UN council. However, this document failed to categorize viruses and bacteria and soon after its ratification, several nations like Canada, France, Great Britain, Japan, the Soviet Union, and Italy began developing biological weapons.
World War II– Japan had several allegations on biological research conducted from approximately 1932 till 1945. This research was conducted by Shiro Ishii a microbiologist and director of ‘Unit 731’ and Masaji Kitano lieutenant-general of the Japanese army. The center of this program was called ‘Unit 731’ which was located on Pingfan, Harbin. The program focused on agents like B.anthracis, Vibrio cholera, Neisseria meningitides, Yersinia pestis, and Shigella spp. With a setup of more than 150 buildings, 5 satellite camps, and about 3000 scientists. Around 10,000 prisoners are believed to have died as a result of inside infection during experimentation. And 3000 of these were ‘prisoners of war’ including Chinese, American, Soviet, Australian, British who died because of human experiments by fatal biological agents. Later such experiments were considered as “most regrettable events in terms of humanity”. Besides, the Japanese research center also modified the plague caused by bacteria (Yersinia pestis). The death by this agent is referred to as ‘black death’. In this experiment laboratory, fleas were fed on infected rats, and later such fleas were released by aircraft in Chinese cities.
THE BIOLOGICAL WEAPON CONVENTION (BWC), 1972
The BMC was the first multilateral disarmament treaty that banned the development, production and stockpiling of biological agents that are capable of mass destruction. It was declared open on 10th April 1972 and came into force on 26 March 1975. A total of 183 states have ratified the treaty as of October 2020. Several countries have made certain reservations while ratifying the agreement which allows them stockpiling agents for prophylactic and other peaceful purposes. Ten states which haven’t signed and ratified the protocol are Chad, Comoros, Djibouti, Tuvalu, South Sudan, Namibia, Israel, Eritrea, Kiribati, and Micronesia. Ratified countries are required to submit certain information like scientific conferences at specific facilities, biological defense research, and disease outbreak. US President Richard Nixon terminated the biological weapon program in 1970. However, BWC does not provide firm guidelines for control and inspection and there are no rules for dealing with violations. Certain events also demonstrated complexities faced by the UN in enforcing the status of BWC.
WHAT HAPPENS DURING THE TIME OF BIOLOGICAL THREAT
At the time of the biological attack, health officials may not be able to provide information about the illness or what people should do, as it takes time in running the medical protocol. The first evidence that may occur will be on the body itself if there is an exposure to the agent. Terrorists’ main goal is to create widespread panic and cause economic damage. Public authorities have developed a system to categorize biological agents based upon risk to national security. ‘Category A’ has the highest priority as they directly possess a threat to national security because such agents have a high mortality rate, transmit from one person to another and cause an immense social breakdown, for example – smallpox, Ebola, Lassa, plague. ‘Category B’ agents are moderate and have low mortality rates such as brucellosis, typhus fever, etc. ‘Category C’ are the emerging agents that can be modified in the future such as Nipah and Hendra virus, Tick-Borne hemorrhagic fever, etc.
Staying connected to the local TV news broadcaster, radio and internet will provide real-time updates about the situation like areas of danger, symptoms of the disease, if there are any medications which are distributed, whom to reach if got infected. Covering your nose and mouth with added layers of fabric for filtered air. Avoiding crowded areas and washing with antiseptic soap. If any noticeable symptoms occur as described by the health authorities immediately seek medical help.
HOW TO PREVENT ONESELF FROM A BIOTERRORISM ATTACK
Today prevention methods like bio-defense are used to seek protection against biological agents. These methods include vaccinations and medicines. Bio-defense also includes medical research and lab preparations. Personal preparation should start long before there is an attack and proper supplies should be stored at the home, place of work, and car. These supplies are valuable assets during natural disasters which occur more than biological attacks. Here is a list of supplies from the United States Department of Homeland security founded by President George W. Bush which deals with domestic and foreign threats at the civilian level.
- Water – 11 liters for each individual and an additional 15 liter for personal and pet requirements.
- Food – 3-day supply meal and an additional 4-day supply meal per person and pet. Ready to eat meals (MRES) should also be stored.
- For infants – milk powder, diapers, pacifiers, sipper bottles, and medicines.
- For elders, disabled people – special food items, hearing aid batteries, both prescribed and non-prescribed medicines, inhalers, and other necessary medical equipment.
- A fully equipped first aid kit, physical map, electric lighter, and sleeping bags for each individual.
- Kitchen instruments – manual can opener for MRES, an all-purpose knife, disposable plates and cups, reusable plastic bags. Minimum 5 kgs of salt and sugar and aluminum foil.
- Clothing – one complete set of clothes for each individual including shoes, rain gear, dust masks, gas masks, and other necessary items for the required
- Other essential items – cash and coins and a copy of credit cards, tent, shovel, compass, and an extra set of keys and copies of important documents.
Bioterrorism agents such as Ebola, chemical gas, anthrax, and sulfur mustard are used on battlefields. These agents can have adverse effects on organs and tissues of the body with symptoms like swelling of the tongue, mucosal bleeding, edema, ulceration, and mucosal congestion. A bioterrorism attack not only causes death and sickness in a large number of victims but also spreads panic and fear which leads to the breakdown of government authority and defacement in military responses. Worldwide news and images of public health authority in full protective gear cause widespread public distraction and anxiety.
Primary prevention depends on creating global norms that strongly recommend a ban on the production and development of biological weapons. Secondary prevention depends on medical communities for early detection and accurate treatment of disease. Also, continued medical research, and improved surveillance which provides better diagnostic capabilities, therapeutic methodologies, and timely response plans will strengthen the medical community worldwide.
Author(s) Name: Rishabh Patil (United world school of law, KarnavatiUniversity, Gandhinagar)