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Anthrax is currently considered one of the most serious bioterrorism threats. Beginning in the second half of the 20th Century, B. anthracis was developed by several countries as part of their biological weapons (BW) programs, and autonomous groups have also demonstrated the intent to use the bacterium in acts of terrorism.
Botulinum toxins pose a major threat as biological weapons because they are extremely potent and lethal; some of the toxins are relatively easy to produce and transport; and people with botulism require prolonged intensive hospital care.
Glanders is caused by infection with the bacterium Burkholderia mallei, and melioidosis is caused by Burkholderia pseudomallei. Both have the potential to produce fatal disease and have been identified by the CDC as Category B biological agents. HHS has identified these diseases as top priorities for development of medical countermeasures.
Cyanide is a naturally occurring chemical, found in many plants, that has been used in conventional warfare and poisoning for 2 millennia. It is highly lethal, whether inhaled as a gas, ingested in solid form, or absorbed through topical exposure. Two notorious incidents in recent history—the Jonestown Massacre in 1978 and the Tylenol poisonings in 1982—highlight the lethality of this poison.
F. tularensis is considered to be a serious potential bioterrorist threat because it is one of the most infectious pathogenic bacteria known—inhalation of as few as 10 organisms can cause disease—and it has substantial capacity to cause serious illness and death. The bacterium was developed into an aerosol biological weapon by several countries in the past.
Some HFVs are considered to be a significant threat for use as biological weapons due to their potential for causing widespread illness and death. Because of their infectious properties, associated high rates of morbidity and mortality, and ease of person-to-person spread, Ebola, Marburg, Junin, Rift Valley fever, and yellow fever viruses have been deemed to pose a particularly serious threat, and in 1999 the HFVs were classified as category A bioweapons agents by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Nerve agents are a class of chemicals grouped together based on their common mechanism of action, which is interruption of vital nerve transmissions to various organs.
Pulmonary agents (also known as “choking” agents) compose a class of chemical compounds that disrupt normal breathing.
The CDC has classified ricin toxin as a Category B threat agent. Category B agents are the second highest priority agents because they can be disseminated with moderate ease, they cause moderate morbidity and low mortality, and they “require specific enhancements of CDC’s diagnostic capacity and enhanced disease surveillance.”