Biological agents are not known to have ever been
used as part of a modern weapons systems. There
is some doubt about their tactical (immediate) effec-
tiveness. However, as a strategic device, as a covert
biological agents are ideally suited.
Throughout the history of warfare, disease has been
as effective as combat in causing casualties. Recall
the plagues that swept Europe during the Middle
Ages or. more recently, the influenza outbreaks of
1918, 1958, and 1968. Any epidemic can totally
disrupt normal functioning. Imagine being able to
cause an epidemic when and where you choose, and
you have some idea of the potential military strategic
usefulness of biological warfare. The importance of
planning and training for defense against chemical
and biological agents cannot be overstated.
CHEMICAL AND BIOLOGICAL
Chemical and biological (CB) weapons have
unique characteristics that distinguish them from
conventional or nuclear weapons.
. CB weapons do not destroy material; they
are antipersonnel in the truest sense. They
effectively penetrate buildings, fortifica-
tions, ships, and aircraft, without physi-
cally damaging the target, to produce
. CB weapons are particularly adaptable for
use against large groups of people. Densely
populated areas having transportation or
manufacturing facilities that must be
preserved for economic or political reasons
would be ideal targets. Large numbers of
casualties can be produced with minimal
damage to property.
There are differences between chemical and
biological weapons that determine their usefulness
in a particular situation. In general, chemical
weapons are more suited for tactical, short-term
local use, while biological weapons have a
strategic, long-range goal. Several factors con-
tribute to this.
. Chemical agents produce their effects
within seconds to hours; the effects of ex-
posure to biological agents may not occur
for several hours to days.
. Human susceptibility to chemical agents
is universal; immunity to disease from
biological agents varies widely.
. There is, as yet, no effective method of im-
munization against chemical agents, but a
variety of vaccines is available for many
biological agents, i.e., small-pox, bubonic
plague, and typhus and typhoid fever,
. There are specific antidotes for chemical
agents that are effective; but for many
biological agents, no specific curative treat-
ment exists, and some are specifically
tailored to be drug-resistant, i.e., recom-
binant or mutant bacterial and viral
In any discussion of toxic chemical agents, it
is convenient to consider them under several
classifications. The broadest classification we will
use is based on the general effect produced (i.e.,
severe casualty, harassment, or incapacitation).
Within each general group, there are further
breakdowns. The most convenient, from a
medical point of view, is the classification by
Casualty-producing chemical agents include:
. Nerve agents, which produce their effect
by interfering with normal transmission of
nerve impulses in the parasympathetic
autonomic nervous system.
. Blister agents or vesicants, which cause
severe blistering of exposed skin.
. Blood agents, which interfere with enzyme
functions in the body, i.e., block oxygen
. Choking agents, which irritate the bron-
chi and cause pulmonary edema.
Under incapacitants, the psychochemical are
the main group. They produce mental confusion
and inability to function intelligently.
Harassing agents are also called riot control
agents and include:
. Tear gas, which causes severe tearing and
eye pain, but for a very short duration.