The first step in preparing a sound defense is to understand the nature
of the threat. This involves sweeping away some of the misconceptions
associated with biological agents.
These agents are not the ultimate
weapons referred to by science fiction writers. Knowledge of the general
characteristics of biological agents and toxins enables the soldier to
a. Low Agent Requirement.
Biological weapon systems are unique in that the agents involved are
Only a small number of microorganisms are needed to establish
infection. The agents reproduce in the host to bring about disease. A
natural regional outbreak of a disease which affects many individuals and
which can spread rapidly is called an epidemic.
In such a situation
there is an unusual increase in the number of cases of a disease in a
limited time among a limited population.
In nature, the spread of
disease occurs from direct contact between individuals, contact with or
ingestion of excreta and contaminated food, exposure to dusts and mists
of infective material (aerosols), and from transmission by animal or
anthropod vectors. Following large-scale dissemination of a biological
agent, an initial outbreak of disease of epidemic proportion might occur.
This depends upon the contagion of the agent, the presence or absence of
Epidemics among the human population can be controlled or minimized by
sanitation, immunization, quarantine, and treatment. Rapidly spreading
epidemics are not considered to be the likely result of a biological
attack in a civilized country so long as controlling factors remain at a
high level of efficiency.
b. Large-Area Coverage.
Biological weapon systems have the potential to cover larger areas than
other weapons. Extremely large numbers of infective doses of biological
agents can be of small volume because the size of the organisms is
A single delivery vehicle can cover target areas up to
thousands of square kilometers with a casualty-producing biological agent
c. Dependence on Weather.
There are four significant weather conditions which directly affect a
biological agent aerosol.
Ultraviolet radiation is lethal to most biological agents; therefore,
The importance of wind effects varies with the type of weapon system used