Since many of the laboratories involved in biological weapons
research and development in the former Soviet Union were working
with decreased funding in the early 90s, particularly in the
areas of staff and support, there evolved concern that bioweapons
resources and expertise may spread to other countries. A report
from the Washington Center for Strategic and International Studies
states that at least ten countries are involved in biological weapon
The ability of a group to acquire variola and develop it
as a biological weapon is limited by the following factors:
- Specialized skills are required to grow smallpox in effectively
large quantities and to adapt it for use as an aerosol-based
weapon. It is unlikely that small, technically- limited
fanatical or dissident groups would use smallpox as a weapon.
- The open use of a biological weapon by any nation or political
state would undoubtedly illicit severe retaliation.
- Smallpox virus is not as readily available as other agents
of biological terrorism such as anthrax (Bacillus anthracis)
or plague (Yersinia pestis).
Evaluation of these and other factors have led bioweapons
experts to conclude that well-financed and highly organized
subnational groups and politically/state sponsored terrorist
groups would be the most likely to use smallpox as a biological weapon.
The following characteristics make smallpox virus an excellent
candidate for use as a biological weapon:
- An aerosol suspension of smallpox virus is quite stable
and has a very low infectious dosage. In general, the dissemination
of a pathogen by aerosol droplet is the preferred deployment method
for biological weapons.
- There are no large-scale civilian smallpox vaccination
requirements at this time. Thus, there is a large susceptible
population at risk for smallpox infection. (Note that both military
and civilian planners are evaluating the merits of expanding vaccination
to much larger populations).
- Smallpox is a highly contagious disease, spread through droplet inhalation or ingestion.
- The incubation period in naturally occurring cases (droplet infection)
averages 7-14 days. However, this period could be shortened to 3-7 days
especially in the cases of aerosol application (in biological weapons).
- People may be contagious during the late stages of the
incubation period, even though they are minimally symptomatic.
- Depending on the climate, corpses of smallpox victims remain
infectious for days to months. Bodies should be cremated, if possible.
- The duration of disease is long. Coupled with the complex
isolation and protection requirements of smallpox treatment,
each infected person will require the efforts of several medical
and support personnel.
Contents: Smallpox (Extensive Information)
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