Project Summary

As you explore this website, you will learn about the different types of bioweapons and their categorizations, a brief history of bioweapons, and the complexities of the public health response including discussions about outbreak and response scale, epidemiology, inequality and place based risk and changes in public health perspectives. Types of Bioweapons covers the breakdown of agents into categories by estimated threat level. Agents such as anthrax, plague, and smallpox are all Category A (the highest risk category) and typically have a short incubation period. Their symptoms and ease of use as a weapon make Category A agents the largest threat to national security.

The History of Bioweapons page covers early use of bioweapons, starting with documentation of poisoned arrows from roughly 400 BCE by the Scythians, an Iranian Eurasian nomadic people. Other notable historical examples include the use of plague victim bodies to introduce bubonic plague into a city and the use of blankets from smallpox patients to transfer the disease to Native Americans. This section also covers some of the most important sites for biological weapons in recent history, including research and development facilities around the globe, testing sites, and the location of bioterrorism attacks.

Last, we discuss the public health responses. This includes a discussion of the importance of scale in determining what agencies would respond and the implications for state function. Epidemiology provides an overview on how the different agent dissemination methods (such as aerosol dispersal or botulinum toxin-laced milk) can cause point, line or area sources. This section also provides a look at the Sverdlovsk Anthrax Outbreak as a case study, demonstrating the importance of geographical factors in an outbreak. Inequality and place-based risk analyzes questions of where the burden of a biological attack would fall. It is likely that people with limited economic power and less access to the health care system would be less likely to report their case and thereby increase the impact of the attack. Also, urban areas are particularly vulnerable due in large part to the population density, and the political repercussions are likely to relate deeply to socioeconomic class, race, and social capital in a given area. Finally, the collapse of the Soviet Union and recent events of bioterrorism have lead to health policy changes regarding biological weapons. This section provides a case study focusing on health policy changes made by the US in the 1990s, showing that fear of biological weapons attack has funneled more funding into defense.

In conclusion, there have been significant changes in the development and use of biological weapons over the last century. Public health policy must adjust to this new age in which access to knowledge about biological weapons is easy to obtain and the resources to create them are available to individuals as well as nations. Understanding the importance of geography in risk assessment and policy implementation is critical to an effective public health regime.