How Effective Are Biological Weapons?

Discussion in 'Nuclear, Chemical & Bio Weapons' started by ESTT, Jun 11, 2017.

  1. ESTT

    ESTT Well-Known Member

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    While I have read about many biological weapons over the years, I haven't been able to find any instances of them being used in an effective manner. Has anyone been able to find anything on the subject?
     
  2. Dayton3

    Dayton3 Well-Known Member

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    They are largely ineffective because in order to be a truly effective weapon of war (or as a terror weapon) they have to be large scale enough that they inevitably threaten your own side with disastrous results.
     
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  3. ArmySoldier

    ArmySoldier Well-Known Member Past Donor

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    I'd tell you to ask Saddam but he's unavailable at the moment.
     
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  4. Dropship

    Dropship Well-Known Member

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    Muslims are eyeing our infidel water supplies, I don't know if they plan to just pee and poop in it, or pour flasks of poison and germs in it.
    I'm not a toxicologist or biologist, so I don't know if such germ warfare is possible, what do PF members think, should we switch to bottled water?

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    Last edited: Jun 15, 2017
  5. ESTT

    ESTT Well-Known Member

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    I have noticed this as well. Though this is only a guess of mine, wouldn't a vaccine created along with the weaponized pathogen prevent your own side from suffering the lethal effects?
     
  6. ESTT

    ESTT Well-Known Member

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    Very true. And a very good thing as well that he is not available. However didn't Saddam Hussein use chemical weapons rather than biological weapons?
     
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  7. ArmySoldier

    ArmySoldier Well-Known Member Past Donor

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    Oh my mistake. Should have paid closer attention to the topic.
     
  8. ESTT

    ESTT Well-Known Member

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    That is alright. I have even confused the two myself from time to time.
     
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  9. Dayton3

    Dayton3 Well-Known Member

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    Yes. And that is another problem.

    The mass vaccination of your own side (while expensive on that scale and cumbersome) would be the equivalent of ordering all your nuclear forces to full all out alert.

    It would be seen as an prime indicator of upcoming attack. And such an effort would be impossible to hide.
     
  10. Mrbsct

    Mrbsct Active Member

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    From what I know many water supply routes have filters in them. Bioweapons in general are not as effective as nuclear weapons. Vaccines, emergency sweepup crews, and anti-biotics are enough to blunt a bioweapon attack. They are not city-killing.
     
  11. ESTT

    ESTT Well-Known Member

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    True. It would be seen similarly to an act of war by enemy nations. Though, hypotheyically, I feel it would depend on the size of your group. If your faction consists of only 20 to 30 individuals, vaccination in a private setting would be nearly impossible for an enemy force to be aware of. For a nation, I suppose a mandatory vaccination for a general list of diseases could be used as a guise for administering the bioweapon's vaccine, safeguarding your own country's population.
     
  12. Dayton3

    Dayton3 Well-Known Member

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    Things that are done to hundreds of thousands of people much less millions are pretty easy to detect though.

    Several years ago, South Korea and the U.S. became alarmed that the North Koreans were having many of their soldiers have their heads shaved. They felt this might be a prelude to major military action.
     
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  13. ESTT

    ESTT Well-Known Member

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    While water sources can be filtered, I am not sure how airborne contagions are dealt with. Also, it's clear that nuclear weapons are the most effective, though an advantage I feel biological weapons have are that they can be released without warning into a population. In addition, if done covertly, it would be far too difficult to name the culprits given that the disease may not initially appear weaponized under man-made conditions. And even if it was, unlike ICBM's, locating the point of origin might be much harder to do.
     
  14. Dayton3

    Dayton3 Well-Known Member

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    One of the problems with effective biological weapons is two contradictory features they need to have to be most effective.

    1) They need a long incubation period. That is you need a decently long period from initial exposure and infection to when symptoms start to appear. If you have a short incubation period, you will have people expose to them promptly start dropping before they are able to spread the disease. A short incubation period allows quarantines of exposed populations in confined geographic areas to be an effective counter.

    2) They need to have an extremely high fatality rate. In general at least 30% of those exposed. Needless to say if the fatality rate is too low, after an initial panic a population under attack might simply "ride it out"

    I'm not a biologist but I have heard those who know that it is difficult to "engineer in" both of those features.
     
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  15. Dayton3

    Dayton3 Well-Known Member

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    Another problem regarding airborne pathogens. Immensely influenced by the influence of local weather conditions. Which is why IIRC most of the serious research has been in diseases that have a person to person transmission vector.

    The only real military justification for real biological warfare is as an economic weapon during a major all out war. That is make so many of the civilian workforce sick or dead that it cuts dramatically into military/economic/industrial production.

    But that is extremely chancy as you're leaving the tools of production intact so your enemy can jury rig stuff on the fly to be automated and maintain production.

    Some would say that this would be a good idea as it would kill off the enemys civilian population but leave their infrastructure intact for you to seize after you've won the war.

    The thing is if you're so certain of victory in the war anyway you probably won't need the biological attack in the first place. You could just implement an air/sea/land blockade and starve the civilian population out anyway.

    Biological warfare in this case becomes a classic Catch 22. If you could pull it off successfully you probably wouldn't need to.
     
    Last edited: Jun 15, 2017
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  16. ESTT

    ESTT Well-Known Member

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    Thank you Dayton3. That really is a catch 22. I suppose a covert release of a person to person disease could be somewhat effective if released some time prior to attack as well. One hypothetical scenario I've once thought of, was if the United States and NATO, secretly released a more potent ebola strain on Iran. For several years, Iran would suffer the effects and become weaker. With no confirmed culprit. Once most healthy, fighting age Iranians are dead or incapacitated , Western military forces could begin a surprise attack.

    This is only based on my rough understanding however. I don't have any real, adequate knowledge regarding military strategy.

    Also, I suppose it would depend on the end goal. It's true superior weapons and technology can defeat an enemy militarily, however the extermination of millions, or even billions of ideological opponents, civilian or otherwise, would take decades or centuries of continuous warfare. Something that a highly developed, extinction level disease might achieve easier. As nuclear warfare would not only cause the spread of radiation, but immediate retaliation by an enemy force. A rapidly spreading, lethal illness from an unidentified nation or faction might be harder to combat. That's just my guess. Thank you again for your input.
     
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2017
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  17. Toggle Almendro

    Toggle Almendro Well-Known Member

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    If properly developed by an advanced nation, they could equal the lethality of nuclear weapons.

    They are doomsday weapons. They would only be used in the same sort of situation where nuclear weapons would be used.
     
    Last edited: Nov 1, 2018
  18. Mushroom

    Mushroom Well-Known Member

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    No.

    For one, a great many diseases simply can not be vaccinated against. This is why there is no vaccine for the common cold, or HIV.

    Others appear to mutate to quickly, such as Ebola. And a vaccine for one strain is in no way guaranteed to protect you from another.

    Finally, vaccines are never 100% effective. You can be vaccinated and still get a disease. And some research shows that this is one of the main ways that a disease causing organism can mutate into another strain.

    And there are the secondary creatures that can fall ill. A lot of pathogens cross species. Cows, horses, canines, goats, all these animals and more can catch anthrax. H1N1 has many names, including Spanish Flu, Swine Flu, and Bird Flu.
     
  19. Monash

    Monash Well-Known Member

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    I think some fact checks might be in order.

    Firslty , what we call 'cold' viruses are in fact a broad group of viruses that have similar symptoms (fever, sniffles etc) but none are lethal under normal conditions - as distinct from the flu virus which can be lethal and for which we do have vaccines with work well. In addition several 'universal' options i.e. one shot stops that kill most most if not all strains are being researched as I write. And they are well advanced. There are 3-4 strains of Ebola but very effective vaccines have recently been developed - the main delay being the difficulty in identifying the host of the virus so it can be studied between outbreaks.

    HIV is a freak situation where the virus only propagates in the cells of the human immune system - the very system designed to fight viral infections, which vastly complicates the investigation of effective vaccines. Even so partially effective vaccines have been developed and very recently work has been done on a promising new vaccine that is potentially highly effective. So we are getting there. And that's all on top of the highly effective anti-virals cocktails we now have that guarantee HIV patients normal lifespans (or very close to).

    Finally yes, being vaccinated does not guarantee you won't get a disease albeit it does greatly reduce the chances. The true benefit of vaccination is 'herd' immunity. If a large (90% plus) of a population is vaccinated then the chances of a virus spreading and causing significant casualties drops down close to zero in short order. Think of yourself as a virus particle - you find a host, reproduce and in the process kill that host (bad for him/her). However 9 out of 10 of the people your offspring try to effect after that are immune as is 9 out of 10 of everyone after that. The statistical effect is that that rather than flaring up the viral outbreak is stifled and dies out.

    Where cross species jumps are concerned the general rule is that the farther apart species are the harder it is for a virus to 'jump' across. There are no recorded instances for example of an insect or fish virus infecting mammalian hosts let alone human. Yes the flu virus is a rare example of clear and present danger (it excels at jumping across species barriers) but as noted above because it is such a threat a great deal of effort has been devoted to developing a universal vaccine - and we are close to doing this.

    As for using viruses and bacteria being used as weapons the biggest practical drawback (and the main reason they haven't been used) is that any disease you design to kill an enemy will also kill you - and once it has been released it's spread cannot be controlled. A bomb will kill all enemies with a given area, a virus on the other is the gift that keeps on giving. It will keep on killing until it runs out of hosts to infect. Plus it has the added advantage of being subject to random mutations each time it reproduces - so if for instance you designed a virus that only killed red heads the (minute) difference in genetic diversity between a red headed person and all other hair colours would in short order guarantee a 'jump' to the rest of the human population.

    You could in theory I suppose design a vaccine that protects your population against a weaponized virus of your making but you cannot inoculate your population without alerting the world to what you are doing. And even if you could you can't control the countermeasures or retaliatory measures your enemy would activate.
     
    Last edited: Jan 24, 2019
  20. Mushroom

    Mushroom Well-Known Member

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    The problem here is that we do not even know what the host or vector for Ebola is yet.

    We know that it is a Simian Hemorrhagic Fever, and that it is deadly to both primates and humans. But it is so deadly that primates can not be the actual vector. Not unlike the Bubonic Plague flea and rats. The fleas are the vector, and the rats are non-symptomatic carriers. It is only when the rats and fleas come into contact with humans that we ourselves become infected.

    And there are a great many strains of Ebola, found in both Africa and Asia. And other than one exception (Ebola Reston) all are fatal to humans and primates alike. The one exception discovered so far is fatal to primates, but humans seem to only be asymptomatic carriers.

    And there are 5 strains. E. Zaire, E. Sudan, E. Reston, E. Tai Forest, and E. Bundibugyo. But until we can discover the reservoir and vector it is impossible to determine if this is a stable virus, or one with a high mutational ability.

    As for the vaccine, it is purely experimental and still in testing.

    Actually not quite true. Ebola propagates natively in the Chimp populations in Africa, and appears to be a mutation of another disease, Chimpanze Simian Immunodeficiency Virus (SIV). And while HIV propagates in chimps, they do not come down with deadly versions of it, they are asymptomatic carriers.

    And when the disease first made the leap to humans in the 1950's, it was not very deadly. Humans infected lived on for decades afterwards, frequently dying of other things. But once it hit Europe it mutated quickly. We now have 2 main groups and 4 additional subgroups of HIV.

    And that is the danger of biological warfare. As I said, you create a disease that affects one creature, but you do not know what happens when others come into contact with it. They may also grow sick and die (primates and Ebola), or they may become asymptomatic carriers (fleas and bubonic plague, chimps and HIV). It literally is a genie that if ever released can never be placed back into the bottle.

    I can suggest 2 books that really go into detail about Ebola, and other similar diseases. One is The Hot Zone, by Richard Preston. The other is Ebola: A Documentary Novel of Its First Explosion in Zaire by a Doctor who was There by Doctor William Close. Both are very interesting in how they discuss the initial discoveries and research, as well as the continuing search (even today) for what actually "causes" Ebola.

    Because even 30 years after the outbreak of Ebola Reston in the United States, we are no closer to finding what that is than we were in 1989.
     
  21. Dayton3

    Dayton3 Well-Known Member

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    Even 100 years after the Spanish Flu (Great Influenza) Pandemic we do not know exactly when and where it originated or made it so fast spreading and so lethal.
     
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  22. reallybigjohnson

    reallybigjohnson Banned

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    Biological weapons scare me a hell of a lot more than nuclear weapons, unless its the zombie apocalypse in which case.....bring it one. :machinegun::love:
     
    Last edited: Jan 24, 2019
  23. Monash

    Monash Well-Known Member

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    Thanks for the update re; Ebola. With regards the possible vector I was I thought they were narrowing it down to bats or rodents. As for vaccines, I believe one has been field trialed in Zaire?? with great success.

    As for SIV/HIV nexus chimps seem to have had a long exposure to the precursor virus and as a result both virus and the animals have had time to become co-adapted i.e they are heading towards a state where the disease is (or will eventually be) none-lethal. I was taught that from an evolutionary perspective killing you host is a bad idea for a virus or indeed any other infectious disease so evolution favors version with milder effects over time. Which of course explains the problem with AIDS, its a new virus from the hosts perspective and new host from the viruses perspective.

    Didn't know about the non-lethal strains in Africa in the 50's though, never heard that before. How did they figure that out? AIDS has a long incubation/infection time and medical records from the region would be 'incomplete' at best in the 50's. If all you should have are a few blood/serum samples how could you separate lethal from non lethal especially when the virus does not survive well outside a human host? Wouldn't you would need survivors alive today carrying the non-lethal strain? Testing samples from diseased persons woudn't tell you if the virus killed them (or not) - just that it was present.

    On a final note my 'favourite' virus (if that's the right term) for an SF style Apocalypse would be a weaponized strain of Zika virus designed to infect adults. You could even get a plausible 'Walking Dead" scenario out of it instead of the incomprehensibly unscientific 'virus' referred to in the TV show.
     
  24. Mushroom

    Mushroom Well-Known Member

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    They still have no idea where the virus comes from. As I said, it is believed to be a rodent (and bats are rodents), but it has yet to be identified.

    And the virus only works against a single strain. There is no "wide field vaccine" against all strains.

    One constant among "Rainforest Virus" is that they tend to mutate very easily, and jump from one host to another. It often finds an asymptomatic host in one species (chimp), then finds another where it becomes a deadly disease.

    SHF is deadly to most primates, but is rarely even a threat to humans. HIV is deadly to humans, but causes no problems with chimps. That is common among virus, which only have one half of the genetic code to survive on their own, and must have another host to replicate and spread. One host is perfectly compatible and they have a symbiotic relationship, in another it is quickly fatal.

    It is not that it was "non-fatal", it is just that it was so weak that the natural mortality would kill a patient before the disease itself killed them. For example, that is why cancer so rarely killed people before the 19th century. They normally died of other things first, like a stubbed toe, childbirth, or typhoid.

    And they know it exists then because some curious doctors back then put some of their organs or other biological material into storage.

    HIV was first recognized in 1981, but the oldest known case dates back to 1959. That is because of an unknown mane from the Congo who died of an unknown disease in 1959. Some of his blood was preserved, and decades later it tested positive for HIV. The same with a woman from the Congo in 1960.

    A decade later a man in Missouri died of an unusual disease (Kaposi Sarcoma), and some of his blood and tissues were also saved. In 1987 this blood was tested, and tested positive for HIV.

    This is common procedures for medical professionals. When somebody dies of something unusual, they save tissue or blood, in the hopes that later it can be identified. But as is common for a rainforest virus, so long as it remains in it's natural habitat, they are mostly benign. It is only when they reach places of higher population density (and increased immune systems) that they often mutate into something even more deadly.

    Well, most virus tend to follow one of four paths.

    In one, it is largely benign, so survives in a host group for decades or longer. This for example is the "common cold" virus. It is not particularly deadly, and mutates often.

    Then you have the asymptomatic carriers. This is a virus that occasionally pops out when it crosses from one species to another, but normally is not particularly fatal. Swine Flue in most instances is one of these, unless it is one of the deadly varieties that jumps.

    Then you have the unusual ones. HIV, which is 100% deadly, but takes years or decades to be fatal. This is the biggest worry, because normally by the time you show symptoms, it is to late. I am of the generations that remembers AIDS, because it really was a "syndrome". Literally an illness that they do not know the cause of.

    Finally, you have the really bad ones. Marburg and Ebola are two of the most well known ones. The fatality rate is high, and they spread quickly. The only saving grace is that they are so highly deadly that most burn themselves out before they can spread very far. Most tend to have high death rates (80%+) within a short distance of where the outbreak occurs, but it happens so fast that it never really has a chance to spread before quarantine procedures kick in.
     
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