Canada's Aerospace and Defence WeeklyClick here for TWR History

Defence History Reference Section
Do a keyword search.

Weapons of Mass Destruction (Chem/Bio)

Threat Scenario, Detection, Super Diseases, BZ Gas, Anthrax, Botulism, Ebola, Glanders, Hantavirus, Pneumonic Plague, Ricin, Small Pox, TularemiaTyphoid, VX Gas, Tabun-Sarin-Soman

RSS Feed Reader The Wednesday Report Current Issues are Syndicated Via RSS Feed

Pneumonic Plague

Bubonic and pneumonic plague are both forms of plague, but with differing symptoms. Both are caused by the same bacterium and are spread by rodents and their fleas.  Pneumonic plague can also be spread by droplets released into the air when an infected person coughs or by aerosol spray if it is being used as a biological weapon.

The incubation period of Bubonic plague is 2 to 6 days following exposure.  Symptoms include enlarged, swollen lymph nodes and fever; pneumonic plague occurs when the disease spreads to the lungs, causing pneumonia. If untreated, bubonic plague is fatal to about 50 to 60 percent of its victims; untreated pneumonic plague reaps nearly 100 percent fatalities. Pneumonic plague is believed to have been the Black Death that devastated Europe and Asia in the 14th century.

The 1994 plagues that struck northwest India are believed to have been pneumonic plague. Even with medical treatment available, at least 56 people died in the outbreak that started in Surat.  Four hundred thousand people fled the area, including one of the doctors in charge of the clinics that were treating patients.

The spontaneous evacuation held all the potential for a run-away spreading of the disease to surrounding towns. Instead, the plague died out, with almost no cases in nearby Bombay and only two deaths in New Delhi, India's capital. In all only 250 people were actually treated for plague at hospitals in several states, though thousands were examined with what appeared to be plague.

The quick recovery of India from the epidemic was unexpected by many scientists. Generally a natural contagious disease like the plague lasts a season or more. For this reason some Indian scientists have maintained that the outbreak was caused by military microbes designed to last for only a short time in a very virulent form that quickly died off so it wouldn't spread unchecked. Whether this was actually an attack or just an odd outbreak is unknown. (Which is what makes biological terrorism so effective as it is often impossible to prove an actual attack has occurred.)

The most common vector of plague is the common house rat, rattus rattus. For this reason the first line of defence against the plague is the elimination of all rats in an area with poison and traps.  Additionally, insecticides designed to kill fleas can also be useful; recent studies suggest that borax powder is a highly effective chemical for killing fleas and it has the added benefit of being only mildly toxic to mammals. Because of the possibility of the spread of the disease through aerosol droplets, use of a protective mask would also be prudent in areas that are experiencing plague victims.

Plague often may be treated with antibiotics; however it might be bred into a more resistant form for use as a biological weapon. When dealing with those who have contracted the plague, masks, gowns, and gloves should be worn for protection.

Threat Scenario, Detection, Super Diseases BZ Gas, Anthrax, Ebola, Glanders, Hantavirus, Pneumonic Plague, Small Pox, Typhoid, VX Gas