by Sarah Oide
The World Health Organization officially categorizes biological agents as weapons of mass destruction. These deadly agents have had a dark history - particularly in World War II. Pioneered in Unit 731, Japan notoriously produced various biological weapons in the 1940s with the intent to release them on a large scale. Struck by the dangerous potential of these agents, the United States produced a secret report detailing the history of these biological weapons in January of 1944. In this five-page document, the author draws from research in Britain and Germany to evaluate the probable risks associated with anthrax and botulinus toxin.
Anthrax (Agent “N”): Anthrax was marked as a “very probable offensive [biological] weapon” to be wary of. Nicknamed “N” in the report, anthrax was noted to be a large risk to America due to how easy it could be produced in large quantities. As a spore-forming bacterium, anthrax also posed a large risk due to its extremely indestructible nature - unphased by dry or hot conditions. Citing field experiments from Britain, the agent would most likely be dispersed using a bomb. Once the bomb reached a certain height in the air, it would combust, producing a large cloud of anthrax spores that could spread for miles and infect anyone in its path. Once the organism is inhaled, anthrax immediately infects the individual, causing death within 48-120 hours.
Botulinus Toxin (Agent “X”): In addition to anthrax, the secret report centers its attention on the botulinus toxin. Declared as “one of the most deadly toxins known to science”, this agent was extremely poisonous and dangerous. Although botulinus toxin was less resistant to environmental conditions than anthrax, the ability to produce the agent in large quantities was seen as a critical risk. Ground into fine brown dust and released an explosive shell, the author notes that it took “only a minute quantity of this dust to produce deadly results”. Once inhaled, the agent begins to attack the nervous system of the infected individual between “six hours to several days” until they are suddenly unable to breathe.
Protection and Prevention: The report also covers important protective and preventive measures against anthrax and botulinus toxin to reduce their impacts. For physical protective measures, the author recommends using gas masks and other protective gear to protect the human body and potential points of entry. Other protective measures include using injections of the agents to build immunity, although it is noted as an unlikely option due to production limitations.
This secret report provides important insight into the otherwise unknown history of the threat of biological agents used in World War II. Interested in learning more?
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