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Biologic Weapons

Biologic Weapons is a topic covered in the 5-Minute Emergency Consult.

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  • Defined as naturally occurring organisms or toxins that are purified and prepared for mass dissemination with intent of causing mass morbidity, mortality, and social disruption.
  • Organisms include bacteria, viruses, and fungi.
  • Over 400 potential or actualized etiologic agents capable of being used as biologic weapon:
    • Characterized by their relatively low cost compared with other weapons of mass destruction (WMD), high potency, and their ability to be delivered in a stealthy manner
    • Stealth quality of biologic weapons comes from organism's natural incubation period.
  • Easy to conceal and difficult to detect:
    • Agents often invisible to naked eye, odorless, and tasteless
  • Patients typically present to various health care facilities with host of common complaints, adding to delay in recognition of covert release of biologic weapon.
  • Victims of biologic warfare agents are exposed either via direct cutaneous contact with agent, respiratory inhalation of aerosolized agent, or via GI tract after poisoning of food or water source.


  • Bacteria:
    • Anthrax: Bacillus anthracis
    • Plague: Yersinia pestis
    • Cholera: Infection from Vibrio cholerae:
      • Presents with severe GI symptoms and rapidly leads to profound dehydration
    • Tularemia: Francisella tularensis
    • Brucellosis: Organism in the Brucella genus
    • Q fever: Coxiella burnetii
  • Viruses:
    • Smallpox: Variola virus
    • Viral encephalitides: Members of Alphavirus genus (Venezuelan equine encephalitis, Eastern equine encephalitis, and Western equine encephalitis)
    • Viral hemorrhagic fevers: From 4 families of viruses, includes illnesses such as Ebola, Marburg, Lassa, and dengue fever
  • Toxins:
    • Ricin
    • Staphylococcal enterotoxin B
    • Botulinum toxin
    • Mycotoxins

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Rosen, Peter, et al., editors. "Biologic Weapons." 5-Minute Emergency Consult, 5th ed., Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2016. Emergency Central, emergency.unboundmedicine.com/emergency/view/5-Minute_Emergency_Consult/307204/all/Biologic_Weapons.
Biologic Weapons. In: Rosen P, Shayne P, Barkin AZ, et al, eds. 5-Minute Emergency Consult. 5th ed. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2016. https://emergency.unboundmedicine.com/emergency/view/5-Minute_Emergency_Consult/307204/all/Biologic_Weapons. Accessed April 23, 2019.
Biologic Weapons. (2016). In Rosen, P., Shayne, P., Barkin, A. Z., Wolfe, R. E., Hayden, S. R., Barkin, R. M., & Schaider, J. J. (Eds.), 5-Minute Emergency Consult. Available from https://emergency.unboundmedicine.com/emergency/view/5-Minute_Emergency_Consult/307204/all/Biologic_Weapons
Biologic Weapons [Internet]. In: Rosen P, Shayne P, Barkin AZ, Wolfe RE, Hayden SR, Barkin RM, Schaider JJ, editors. 5-Minute Emergency Consult. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2016. [cited 2019 April 23]. Available from: https://emergency.unboundmedicine.com/emergency/view/5-Minute_Emergency_Consult/307204/all/Biologic_Weapons.
* Article titles in AMA citation format should be in sentence-case
TY - ELEC T1 - Biologic Weapons ID - 307204 ED - Rosen,Peter, ED - Shayne,Philip, ED - Barkin,Adam Z, ED - Wolfe,Richard E, ED - Hayden,Stephen R, ED - Barkin,Roger M, ED - Schaider,Jeffrey J, BT - 5-Minute Emergency Consult UR - https://emergency.unboundmedicine.com/emergency/view/5-Minute_Emergency_Consult/307204/all/Biologic_Weapons PB - Lippincott Williams & Wilkins ET - 5 DB - Emergency Central DP - Unbound Medicine ER -