Bioterrorism involves the intentional use of biological agents to cause illness or deaths on humans, plants, or animals. Plants, animals, and humans represent the possible bio-terrorist targets. Bacteria, fungi, toxins, and viruses are the commonly used bioterrorism agents. Thavaselvam and Vijayaraghavan (2010) state that when biological agents are released in a targeted area, they either cause high mortality, morbidity or weaken the population. Biological weapons are different from other weapons utilised in warfare because biological agents do not produce instantaneous effects. Thavaselvam and Vijayaraghavan explain that the effects of a biological attack are observable in a population after some days or few weeks (Thavaselvam and Vijayaraghavan, 2010). Biological agents are dispersible in various forms depending on their nature hence they quickly spread and infect humans. Every biological agent possesses unique characteristics that ensure their survival in the host environment. When planning a bioterrorist attack one needs to be aware of the unique characteristics of the various biological agents.
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Thavaselvam and Vijayaraghavan describe Viruses as biological agents that have DNA and RNA. This characteristic allows viruses to self-replicate, multiply and spread faster in their host cells. Viruses can only replicate inside living host cells. Viruses cause diseases in plants animals and humans. On the other hand, bacteria simply described as single-celled prokaryotic organisms. Scientists consider bacteria as free- living organisms. Bacteria are pathogenic to plant, animals, and humans. Thavaselvam and Vijayaraghavan explain that scientist can culture bacteria on solid and liquid media in the laboratories (Thavaselvam and Vijayaraghavan, 2010). Bacterial organisms have a plasma membrane, which protects its cells from the hostile environment in the host cell. Lastly, fungi represent unicellular or multicellular pathogenic organisms. They are eukaryotic in nature although they lack chlorophyll. Fungi are hardly used in bio terror attack although they do possess pathogenic characteristics.
Thevaselvam and Vijayaraghavan (2010) point out that Bacteria and viruses are organisms that are widely used in bio terror. Understanding factors such as the incubation periods, morbidity and mortality rates, environmental stability and appropriate deployment procedures of these pathogenic organisms allows one to decide on the appropriate bioterrorist threat to utilise. This understanding also allows microbiologist to establish a plan that allows scientist to contain the problem in case of an attack (Thevalsevam and Vijataraghavan, 2010).
When confronting a bio terror attack it is critical for scientist to identify the kind of attack a region is facing. The bio terror attack could be one from lethal agents like anthrax. The lethal agents cause hemorrhagic fever. It is important for scientist to identify the lethal agent and to come up with the effective method of treatment. Lethal agents have high lethal capacity. The incubation period for many lethal agents is approximately 1 to 6 days. Viral agents that cause hemorrhagic fever are unstable in the environment because they are susceptible to sunlight and high temperatures. This susceptibility makes it difficult to deploy lethal viruses in an aerosol form. However, lethal viruses can be transmitted when one come into contact with the teardrops of a infected person or any fluid from an infected person Lethal viruses and bacteria cause unique sign and symptoms and therefore health experts can easily isolate victims to try to prevent a spread of the disease (Thevalsevam and Vijataraghavan, 2010).
A bio terror attack using an incapacitating agents usually target to cause an epidemic of chronic illnesses. Incapacitating agents do not cause fatal attacks; however, the illness can be contagious leading to an epidemic. Incapacitating agents have a low to moderate lethal capacity. Their incubation periods can be 2-15 days or even months. Studies show that incapacitating agents have a stable environmental stability. Only small amounts of incapacitating agents say 100 microorganisms are required start an infection. Most of the lethal agents can be treated using antibiotics and antiviral (Thevalsevam and Vijataraghavan, 2010).
Lets us consider anthrax caused by Bacillus anthracis pores. Anthrax has a high lethal capacity its incubation period is approximately 1 to 6 days. The Bacillus anthracis has virulence factors that enable it survive in a hostile environment. The anthrax bacterium has a toxin and an antiphagocytic capsular polypeptide. The antiphagocytic capsular polypeptide has a D-glutamic acid. The anthrax toxin has three proteins: a protective antigen, an edema factor and a lethal factor. The protective antigen attaches to specific receptors on host cell surface. Cellular proteases cleave the Protective antigen to produce a fragment that acts as specific receptors for edema factor and lethal factor. A receptor-mediated endocytosis is responsible for transporting the toxin into the host cell. The anthrax bacterium has an extraordinary innate resistance. It is environmentally stable its spores can sporulate and survive in the soil for up to 40 years. Anthrax has a variety of bio vectors which include insects, wind and food contaminants.
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The variola virus causes small pox is an animal virus. Morphologically the virus particle is brick-shaped to ovoid. The virus is a self-replicating organism due to the fact it has a double stranded DNA and a complex structure. The virus has a two-lipo protein membrane, which surrounds its dumbbell shaped nucleoid. A double membrane that protects the virus from host cells surrounds the virus particle. The variola virus is a highly contagious it is highly lethal with a case fatality rate of 30% if persons are not vaccinated. Its incubation period is 7 to 17 days. The virus is transmitted from person to person; therefore, in case of a breakout quarantine is the best approach to containing the spread of the disease. The variola virus is environmentally unstable because the virus is susceptible to high temperatures and sunlight. Therefore, it is difficult for the virus to survive outside the host cell (Thevalsevam and Vijataraghavan, 2010).
The anthrax microorganism is a bacterium species whereas the small pox microorganism is a viral species. The anthrax organism exists in nature. The anthrax bacterium reproduces through sporulation. This organism forms hardy spores that enable it survive in the environment for over 40 years. The anthrax bacterium releases toxins once it invades a host cell. These toxins make the bacteria a powerful killer. Its structural adaptability of producing hardy spores and releasing of toxins make the bacterium a dreadful bio terror agent. The bacterium has the nucleic acid DNA, which expresses the genes that dictate the workings of the bacterium. The bacteria toxin is composed of three proteins; the protective antigen, edema factor and lethal factor that enable the bacteria survive in a host cell (Thevalsevam and Vijataraghavan, 2010).
On the other hand, the variola virus is dependent on the host cell for its survival. The variola virus is unstable in the environment. Exposure of the variola virus to high temperatures and sunlight results to its destruction. Technological advancement has made it possible to manufacture variola virus in the laboratories through genetically engineering process. The anthrax bacterium is grown in laboratories through the process of culturing. The variola virus has a double stranded DNA strand that allows it to self-replicate inside the host cell. This can happen inside or outside the host cell. The anthrax bacterium and variola virus reproduce. The anthrax bacterium and the variola virus are prokaryotic in nature. These two organismsâ€™ have genes that dictate their workings in the host cell. The variola virus and anthrax bacterium are both highly lethal (Thevalsevam and Vijataraghavan, 2010).
Viruses such as variola virus differ from other prokaryotic cells because they appear smaller and simpler in their structural make. Viruses contain the genetic makeup, however, they depend on the host cell to be able to replicate. Viruses have no cell, on the other hand, they have DNA and RNA, which allows them to replicate and evolve. Viruses do not consume nutrients; they do not produce or excrete wastes. Viruses are immobile they depend on host cells to invade other cells, and to reproduce. Viruses are harmful to living organisms whereas fungi and bacteria can develop a mutual relationship with other organisms. Bacteria and fungi infections are curable using antibiotics, however, antiviral drugs can only serve to reduce or stop reproduction of viruses. Fungi and bacteria reproduce asexually whereas viruses invade host cells and take over the cells by making the host cell make copies of the viral DNA or RNA. The DNA and RNA components of living organisms freely float in the cytoplasm, however, the DNA or RNA components of viruses are enclosed in plasmids.