The Original WMD
Since ancient times, people have died from the plague, specifically
, which travelled fromperson to person directly or from infected fleas, and moved quickly from ship to ship to locations aroundthe globe. Small outbreaks of plague continue to occur throughout the world today. Considering that jetstravel in hours in what used to involve months or years of travel by ship, it is surprising that the plaguehas not reappeared on a grand scale. Yet isolation, treatment, and worldwide vigilance seem to have keptit at bay. What would occur if a deliberate attempt to infect the population occurred?The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that, in a worst case scenario, if 50 kg of
were released as an aerosol over a city of 5 million, pneumonic plague could occur in as many as 150000persons, 36000 of whom would be expected to die. The plague bacilli would remain viable as an aerosolfor 1 hour for a distance of up to 10 km. Significant numbers of city inhabitants might attempt to flee,further spreading the disease.Examining the plague in detail reveals much about its desired weapons characteristics. In AD 541, thefirst recorded plague pandemic began in Egypt and swept across Europe with population losses ofbetween 50% and 60% in North Africa, Europe, and central and southern Asia. The second plaguepandemic, also known as the Black Death
or Great Pestilence, began in 1346 and eventually killed 20 to 30million people in Europe, one third of the European population. Plague spread slowly and inexorablyfrom village to village by infected rats and humans. The pandemic lasted more than 130 years and hadmajor political, cultural, and religious ramifications. The third pandemic began in China in 1855, spreadto all inhabited continents, and ultimately killed more than 12 million people in India and China alone.For the megalomaniac, a plague is the perfect WMD.
Naturally Occurring Plague
As a prelude to human epidemics, rats frequently die in cycles and in large numbers, precipitating themovement of the flea population from its natural rat reservoir to humans. Several days after ingestinginfected blood, a flea
s stomach becomes blocked by the plague bacteria, which form clots, preventingfood from digesting. Being famished, the flea attempts to feed through multiple bites and regurgitatesinfected blood into its human victim, who then develops bubonic plague.Thus the infection cycle begins.Although most persons infected by this route develop bubonic plague, a small minority will developsepsis with no buboes, a form of plague called septicemic plague. Neither bubonic nor septicemic plaguespreads directly from person to person. A small percentage of patients with bubonic or septicemic plaguedevelop secondary pneumonic plague and can then spread the disease by respiratory droplets. Personscontracting the disease by this route develop pneumonic plague, the deadliest form.