Chemical and biological agents

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Chemical weapons known as Nerve Agents were discovered accidentally by German Scientist Gerhard Schrader in 1936. Shcrader was working on developing a chemical to fight insects (insecticides), on his success he sprayed a dilute solution of what is now known as the Tabun Nerve Agent on a group of insects.

However, a short time later he developed side effects related to vision and breathing that lasted three weeks. And so the discovery, although Chemical Agents such as chlorine and phosgene gas were first used during the First World War in trench warfare their lethality did not compare to that of nerve agents.

Nerve Agents work by unbalancing the Nervous system and thus paralyzing the subject’s muscles and arresting the respiratory (Breathing) system causing death. Chemical weapons use the toxic properties of chemical substances rather than their explosive properties to produce physical or physiological effects on an enemy. Chemical weapons are illegal, immoral and handy. Right? Got a gas mask? Let’s sniff out the grisly story of chemical weaponry. The first big user of chemical weapons was Germany, which released chlorine gas at Ypres, Belgium in 1915.

Chlorine killed or maimed its victims by burning the lungs; it also caused panic among soldiers who were totally unprepared for gas war. Before the so-called “Great War” ended in 1918, France and Great Britain had retaliated, and the industrial powers were also using phosgene gas and mustard gas: Mustard gas (actually a liquid) was introduced by the Germans in 1917. It burns and destroys the skin, eyes and lungs. Biological Weapons are a lot more difficult to trace in history.

During the ancient siege of a city a disease infected carcas would be thrown into the city to cause the infection to spread throughout the population. Due to the cold war research into BW’s was intensified leading to the further development of toxins generated by bacteria (such as the botulin toxin). Biological Agents work by several ways, either by infecting the human body with disease or unbalancing the body’s system as with toxins. A biological agent is an infectious disease, or toxin that can be used in bioterrorism or biological warfare.

There are more than 1200 different kinds of biological agents. Biological agents include prions, microorganisms (viruses, bacteria and fungi) and some unicellular and multicellular eukaryotes (for example parasites) and their associated toxins. They have the ability to adversely affect human health in a variety of ways, ranging from allergic reactions that are usually relatively mild, to serious medical conditions, even death. These organisms are ubiquitous in the natural environment; they are found in water, soil, plants, and animals.

Because many biological agents reproduce rapidly and require minimal resources for preservation, they are a potential danger in a wide variety of occupational settings. Examples of biological agents are anthrax, avian influenza, botulism, foodborne illness, hantavirus, Legionnaires’ disease, molds and fungi, pneumonic plague, smallpox, tularemia, and viral hemorrhagic fevers (VHFs). Ways to protect against these agents Chemical weapons can gain entry to the body through contact, inhalation or ingestion. Similarly Biological Weapons designed for effective dispersion.

To protect against such weaponry the body will have to be totally isolated from the substance and a filter established for breathing. This is what an NBC suit does (Nuclear Biological Chemical). These suits can be reused repeatedly or come in the disposable form. In addition there is always the chance of exposure even with a suit so protective medication is required; For CW an injection of Atropine along with an inhibitor related to the nervous system is required (such as Contrathion), in combination these two chemicals work against the loss of balance in the nervous system caused by the CW.

BW’s are more complicated as a vaccine is required to protect against the effect of the BW disease or the use of a powerful antibiotic to help fight the infection (such as DoxyCycline). Coupled together the NBC suits, medication and early warning devices help protect against the threat of CW and BW. Examples of CW’s : Sarin Sarin, chemical name Isopropyl Methyl Phosphonoflouridate can be synthesized in a good chemical laboratory, it is a thin oily liquid clear to amber in color and odourless.

The fatal inhalation dosage is 10 milligrams. Death can occur to the target in 1 to 10 minutes with indications of dim vision, runny nose, tightness in the chest, nausea, diarrhea, coma and respiratory failure. Sarin used to be the standard nerve agent used by the United States. It was invented by Gerhard Schrader during World War 2. The main trouble with using Sarin is that it is very volatile so tends to evaporate from the target area before its full effect can take place. Examples of CW’s : VX Gas.

VX, chemical name S-(2-DiisopropylAminoEthyl)-0-EthylMethylphonothiolate can be synthesized in a good chemical laboratory, it is a heavy oily liquid like motor oil clear in color and odourless. The fatal inhalation dosage is 10 milligrams, Death occurs to the target in 10 minutes with indications of dim vision, runny nose, tightness of chest, sweating, muscular twitching, nausea, vomiting, weakness and coma. VX was discovered out of insecticide research done in Britain. VX has a high vapor pressure in contrast with Sarin therefore it is very persistent on the target (it will not evaporate easily).

This factor gives VX a very lethal skin contact dosage of 2 milligrams as compared to Sarin’s 10 milligrams. Examples of BW’s : Anthrax Anthrax (Bacillus Anthracis) was discovered in the mid 19th century. It is thought to be behind the death of many people in medieval europe and ancient Egypt. The Japanese first looked into the use of anthrax as a military weapon in 1930. It is considered as the perfect biological weapon because of the fact that it is extremely persistent. It will contaminate the area of a natural target for years before it can be cleaned up.

Once exposed it is fatal to 100% of all exposures and will lead to death in 3 to 7 days. Although it is not contageous several different types exist; Anthrax can be lethal when inhaled but other types exist that are activated on contact with the skin. Anthrax has received a lot of coverage in the news recently due to the Anthrax Letters which were posted to the U. S. after the September 11 incident. Examples of BW’s : Botulin Toxin Botulin is an exception to the rule of Biological Weapons. The Bacteria Clostridia Botulinum produces the Botulin Toxin as a by product.

The fatal dose of the Botulin Toxin is 1 microgram, that’s one millionth of a gram in weight. Theoretically speaking, 1 gram of this toxin is enough to kill 1 million people making it the second best poison in the world. A lot of coverage of this weapon has been attributed to food poisoning, therefore it is not expected to be used as a weapon. Small quantities of Botulin Toxin can be created rather easily with basic Biological principles Careful advance planning is essential if a Member State or other country is adequately to manage the threat or the consequences of deliberate releases of biological or chemical agents.

A central consideration in such preparedness planning is that it is neither possible nor necessary to prepare specifically for attack by all possible biological and chemical agents. If a country is seeking to increase its preparedness to counter the effects of biological and chemical attacks, the targeting of its preparation and training on a limited but well chosen group of agents will provide the necessary capability to deal with a far wider range of possibilities. Knowledge of the general properties of this representative group of agents will enable certain measures to be taken against virtually any other agent.

In addition to being impractical from a preparedness perspective, long and exhaustive lists of agents also give a misleading impression of the extent of possible threats. The representative group of agents Biological and chemical weapons have been described as the “poor man’s atom bomb”, but this conveys a misleading impression of their ease of production and their utility. It is not enough for biological and chemical agents to be highly infective or highly toxic. In order to be selected for weaponization, a candidate agent should have

characteristics that is capable of countervailing the technical limitations that would otherwise render the weapon carrying the agent unattractive to users, such as the technical limitations. So the agent will need to be stable enough to resist degradation during handling and storage, and during the energy-transfer processes that will, in most scenarios, be involved in disseminating it on its target. Once disseminated, the agent must be capable of establishing field dosages that are infective or toxic over a predictable area. It must also be relatively easy to produce from readily available precursor compounds

or from naturally occurring or genetically modified microorganisms. Once produced and, depending on the agent, further processed and formulated, it must be filled into munitions or dissemination devices, or held ready for such filling, and be storable without undue risk to its possessor. If an agent is insufficiently stable in storage, certain expedients are available, such as, in the case of some chemicals, the use of “binary” munitions that are uploaded, not with toxic agent, but with separate containers of precursors, these being adapted to mix and generate the agent either just before or during weapon launch.

For biological agents, a “warm” production base rather than a large stockpile has been relied upon in past offensive military programmed. While many thousands of toxic chemicals and hundreds of pathogenic microorganisms have been investigated for their potential utility as military weapons, relatively few have been found capable of meeting military requirements of the kind just specified, and fewer still have found their way into weapons and actually been used. The task facing public health authorities of identifying a representative group of agents against which to prepare might therefore be thought relatively straightforward.

However, the deliberate agent releases against which public health authorities would need to prepare might include attacks by non-state entities whose agent-selection principles could differ from the military ones. For example, accessibility, not overall aggressiveness and stability in storage, might be the dominant criterion in their choice of agent. Also, the types of impact sought could differ from those that direct military operations. In other words, the rank order in which public health authorities assess the different agent threats, e. g. reference (1), may not be the same as that of military authorities.

In the present study, the representative group has been compiled by applying a progressively sharper focus to possible agents of concern: firstly, the broad treaty definitions of biological and chemical weapons; secondly, the lists of agents that have been negotiated to facilitate treaty implementation, or, in the case of the BWC, proposed therefore; thirdly, such authoritative information as is publicly available about which agents have been weaponized or stockpiled in recent times; fourthly, agents known to have been used as weapons; and finally, considerations regarding non-state entities.

Effects of Biological and Chemical weapons to an individual Remote though the possibility of a terrorist-authored chemical or biological incident in an American community may be, we must prepare for one. The agents are too easy to acquire or manufacture and too easy to disperse for us to ignore that possibility. Even the relatively more likely hoax or attack with an agent of low concentration that is ineffectively delivered will still generate mass casualties that will threaten civil order and inundate community medical facilities.

The creation of this chaos is as much within the grasp of a lone, skilled, and determined person with his or her own warped agenda as it is of state-sponsored terrorists. Many, perhaps most, persons involved in such an incident will exhibit fear, anxiety, or more serious disorders of mood, behavior, or cognition, especially if the perceived threat is a biological weapon that can spread silently from person to person.

Local psychiatrists have a multifaceted role in their communities’ disaster response plans. That role includes immediate treatment of individual patients and groups of patients who are experiencing the psychological impact of a mass disaster, organizing and managing the delivery of mental health care by others to the community, and assisting local medical facilities and community leaders in the control of widespread anxiety, fear, and perhaps even panic.

Should the weapon agent produce mental status changes that overlap those of psychiatric disorders, the psychiatrist’s carefully done mental status examination may be crucial to triage and the prompt delivery of medical treatment to those who need it. Beyond the immediate crisis, any chemical or biological incident will likely produce delayed and chronic psychiatric disorders, as psychological effects of the disaster or as sequelae of the pharmacology of the agent itself. In the absence of experience, confidence in handling this crisis will come from training and solid planning.

World Medical Association Declaration on Chemical and Biological Weapons The World Medical Association draws the attention of the medical profession throughout the world to the dangers presented by chemical and biological weapons. Among other, more obvious, dangers, it should be noted: a. The use of such weapons would have a devastating effect on civilian populations in addition to military personnel, and not only in the target area but also in distant places, perhaps beyond the national boundaries of the combatants. b.

The effects of exposure to chemical and biological weapons present a continuing threat to the health of human beings on a long term basis, possibly causing illness, injury, disease and defects in the population over a long period of time. c. The effects of exposure to chemical and biological weapons may also result in permanent, complex and unpredictable changes in the natural environment, including animals, plant life and water supply, thus destroying the food source of human beings and resulting in extensive morbidity.

d. Existing health care services, technology and manpower may be helpless to relieve the suffering caused by exposure to chemical and biological weapons. The World Medical Association Declaration of Geneva asks physicians to consecrate their lives to the service of humanity, to pledge that the health of the patient will be the physician’s first consideration, and that the physician will not used medical knowledge contrary to the laws of humanity.

The World Medical Association Declaration of Helsinki states that it is the mission of the physician to safeguard the health of the people. The physician’s knowledge and conscience are dedicated to the fulfillment of this mission. The World Medical Association Declaration of Tokyo begins with the following statement: “It is the privilege of the medical doctor to practice medicine in the service of humanity, to preserve and restore bodily and mental health without distinction as to persons, to comfort and ease the suffering of his or her patients.

The utmost respect for human life is to be maintained even under threat, and no use made of any medical knowledge contrary to the laws of humanity. “Therefore, the World Medical Association considers that it would be unethical for the physician, whose mission is to provide health care, to participate in the research and development of chemical and biological weapons, and to use his or her personal and scientific knowledge in the conception and manufacture of such weapons. Furthermore, the World Medical Association:

1. Condemns the development and use of chemical and biological weapons. 2. Asks all governments to refrain from the development and use of chemical and biological weapons. 3. Asks all National Medical Associations to join WMA in actively supporting this Declaration. REFERENCES: http://www. wma. net/e/policy/b2. htm www. who. int/csr/delibepidemics/en/chapter3. pdf http://whyfiles. org/025chem_weap/index. html http://ajp. psychiatryonline. org/cgi/content/full/156/10/1500#SEC6

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