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Clin Microbiol Infect. 2002 Aug;8(8):510-21.

A procedure for differentiating between the intentional release of biological warfare agents and natural outbreaks of disease: its use in analyzing the tularemia outbreak in Kosovo in 1999 and 2000.

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German Armed Forces Medical Academy, Department of Studies and Sciences, Institute of Microbiology, Munich, Germany.


The events of 11 September and the subsequent anthrax outbreaks in the USA have opened the world's eyes to the threat posed by terrorist groups, criminal organizations and lone operators who will stop at nothing to achieve their goals. The open or covert use of pathogens and toxins as biological warfare agents can no longer be ruled out. Against this background, the appearance of an unusual disease must be studied in order to clarify whether it is a natural or artificially caused occurrence. This issue was recently raised in discussions with local representatives and relief organizations during a tularemia epidemic in Kosovo from October 1999 to May 2000. This paper will present a procedure which attempts to use certain criteria to identify or rule out the use of biological warfare agents in the event of an unusual outbreak of disease. Data and findings gathered by routine epidemiologic and microbiological studies often provide only an indirect answer to this problem. For this reason, various criteria were formulated and points allocated to represent their importance, allowing us to deduce in a semiquantitative manner the degree of possibility of an artificial genesis of outbreaks. The significance and characterization of each criterion are discussed. An analysis of the tularemia epidemic in Kosovo based on the procedure described here indicates that a deliberate release of the causative agent of tularemia, Francisella tularensis, as a biological warfare agent is doubtful. In this paper, an approach is described to discriminate between the intentional use of biological warfare agents and natural outbreaks of infectious diseases. The developed model is flexible and considers the political, military and social analysis of the crisis-afflicted region, the specific features of the pathogen, and the epidemiologic and clinical characteristics of the epidemic.

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