Biological Weapons

There are five microbial agents that experts agree might be used as biological weapons. For a more complete description of each, appropriate to public health, click on the name of the disease.
Biological Symbol

Mode of Spread
as weapon









Within 7 days

Fever, malaise, fatigue, occasional cough and chest discomfort evolving into severe respiratory distress

Yes, but not for the public. Used only by the military

Antibiotics, if administered prior to symptom onset

Expert opinion:

"It is deadly.  It's one of a few pathogens that forms spores that are hardy and resistant to environmental stresses."
- Ramond Zillnskas, Senior scientist at the Monterey Institute of International studies.



Yes; last diagnosed case occurred in Somalia in 1977

Averages 12-14 days

Acute onset of fever, headache, abdominal pain and severe muscle aches; rash later appears, scabs over and forms pits and scars.

Yes, exists in laboratories but not used anywhere in the world

No treatment for virus. Hospital care and antibiotics for secondary infection

Expert opinion:

"It has the potential to spread uncontrollably around the world.  It's hard to believe a nation would supply such a virus to a terrorist."
- Ramond Zillnskas


Aerosol, sabotage of food supply or water supply


12 to 72 hours

Double or blurred vision, speech, difficulty swallowing, dry mouth and associated sore throat, muscle weakness; may progress to paralysis of the arms, trunks and legs.

Yes, but not for the public. Used for lab workers and the military

Ventilator to aid breathing; antitoxins can halt disease progress and shorten symptoms

Expert opinion:

"To weaponize it, for a mass effect, is not easy to do."
- Frank Cillufo, terrorism expert at the Center for Strategic & International Studies, Washington, DC




1 to 14 days

Weight loss, fever, chills, fatugue, chest discomfort, dry cougth; swollen lymph nodes

Yes, but not for the public. Used for lab workers 


Expert opinion:

"It is very infectious... The organism is very small and it can stay in the air for a very long time."
- Lee Borenstein, microbiologist in Los Angeles County Public Health Laboratory molecular epidemiology department




1 to 6 days

High fever, chills, headache, cough with bloody sputum, severe pneumonia and sepsis

No known effective vaccine 

Antibiotics may help if administered early

Expert opinion:

"The agents that concern me are the ones that can spread from person to person.  Pneumonic plague is a major risk for spreading, by spittle or a cough."
- Lee Borenstein

Chart taken from


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