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Germ Warfare

If you scare easily, you might want to skip this, but its pretty intriguing stuff . . .

anthrax, Bacillus anthracis
Another name for germ warfare is biological warfare or bio-warfare, and it comes in many forms.  Bacteria, viruses, fungi, and toxins derived from them can be used to kill or incapacitate your enemy.  Think microorganisms like anthrax or plague bacteria, or the naturally occurring poisons (toxins, like botulism) that some microorganisms produce.  [Image is polychrome methylene blue stain of Bacillus anthracis; courtesy of Anthrax Vaccine Immunization Program Agency, Office of the Army Surgeon General, U.S.]

The intentional use of bio-warfare has been around for eons, from poisoned arrows to poisoned wells, to bombs with deadly bacteria.  Talked about germ warfare threats today include smallpox, tularemia, anthrax, Marburg and Ebola viruses, as well as other microorganisms that could be bioengineered to be deadly, like the fictional Tivaz TB in Risking the World.
The history of germ warfare is pretty fascinating.  Some attribute the first biological 'missiles' to 1346 when the Tartars catapulted plague-ridden corpses into the city of Kafka. Ugh!  And popular lore has it that Native American Indians were deliberately infected with smallpox by way of blankets. In World War I, a fourth of American troops who died in France were killed by another biohazard you've heard of: poison gas.

The Japanese in Manchuria during the 1930s, prior to WWII, investigated the effects of bubonic plague, anthrax, botulins, brucellosis, cholera, dysentery, smallpox, and typhus, including experimenting with battlefield applications.  They went so far to try some of the weapons when they were retreating in China.  The Chinese losses were described as 'incalculable,' but one of the major risks of germ warfare took its toll on the Japanese soldiers themselves when 10,000 died following accidental exposure when the wind changed.
plague engorged flea
One of the most interesting Japanese experiments is the use of chocolates laced with plague-infected fleas for an enemy airdrop. How much of a risk are you willing to take for chocolate?  Depends on the day, doesn't it!
[Pictured is an engorged flea.  If this flea was infected with plague bacteria and bit a human, thousands of bacteria would be regurgitated into the bite wound and cause plague. Courtesy of the United States Army Environmental Hygiene Agency].

But seriously, the real problem with biological weapons is their psychological impact. Even if they don't cause mass casualties, they cause mass hysteria. And targets could include not just soldiers, but regular people, the food supply, or our water resources.  Regrettably germ warfare has a special appeal for terrorists and rogue nations, if they are willing to use it like they were in Risking the World.

There are lots of books and articles available on germ warfare.  Unfortunately that's because it's oh so real a possibility.  Here are just a few.