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Toxicol Appl Pharmacol. 2004 Aug 15;199(1):71-84.

Biological agents with potential for misuse: a historical perspective and defensive measures.

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Department of Fundamental and Applied Sciences, Eugene Applebaum College of Pharm/Health Sci,Wayne State University, Detroit, MI 48202, USA.


Biological and chemical agents capable of producing serious illness or mortality have been used in biowarfare from ancient times. Use of these agents has progressed from crude forms in early and middle ages, when snakes and infected cadavers were used as weapons in battles, to sophisticated preparations for use during and after the second World War. Cults and terrorist organizations have attempted the use of biological agents with an aim to immobilize populations or cause serious harm. The reasons for interest in these agents by individuals and organizations include relative ease of acquisition, potential for causing mass casualty or panic, modest financing requirement, availability of technology, and relative ease of delivery. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has classified Critical Biological Agents into three major categories. This classification was based on several criteria, which include severity of impact on human health, potential for delivery in a weapon, capacity to cause panic and special needs for development, and stockpiling of medication. Agents that could cause the greatest harm following deliberate use were placed in category A. Category B included agents capable of producing serious harm and significant mortality but of lower magnitude than category A agents. Category C included emerging pathogens that could be developed for mass dispersion in future and their potential as a major health threat. A brief description of the category A bioagents is included and the pathophysiology of two particularly prominent agents, namely anthrax and smallpox, is discussed in detail. The potential danger from biological agents and their ever increasing threat to human populations have created a need for developing technologies for their early detection, for developing treatment strategies, and for refinement of procedures to ensure survival of affected individuals so as to attain the ultimate goal of eliminating the threat from intentional use of these agents. International treaties limiting development and proliferation of weapons and continuing development of defense strategies and safe guards against agents of concern are important elements of plans for eliminating this threat.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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