Updated 09.09.2016

Biological warfare agents

It is well known, that biological incidents involving disease causing bacteria, viruses, parasites, fungi or toxins are a natural part of life. Furthermore, biological organisms can pose a danger to humans as a consequence of accidental releases of dangerous biological substances, or as a consequence of a deliberate act with malicious intentions. Previous incidents with dangerous biological substances can be divided into the five following categories:

 

 Type
 Example
Casualties
Frequency

Natural outbreaks 

 

Natural outbreaks of infectious 
diseases 

 

Hundreds to many 
millions

 

Common
(> 10 per year)

 

Accidents 

 

 

Accidental release, for example 
during transport or production

 

Few, but potentially 
thousands

 

 

Regularly occurring
(≈ 1 per year)

 

Criminal actions 

Contamination of food with 
the intent of extortion

Very few 

Rare
(≈ 0.2 per year)

Terrorism

Contamination of air or food in cities 

Hundreds, but potentially 
thousands

Very rare
(≈ 0.1 per year)

War 

Special forces attacks on civilians 

Thousands to millions

Extremely rare
(≈ 0.05 per year)

 

Biological warfare agents are specially produced or modified bacteria, viruses, or toxins (toxic substances from living organisms) which can cause diseases, and in some cases, with a lethal outcome. Some warfare agents only affect people who have been directly exposed to the agent, while other warfare agents are able to spread from person to person, and thus, start an epidemic. When a biological warfare agent is combined with a delivery system, e.g. a missile or spraying equipment, it is defined as a biological weapon. Known incidents with biological warfare agents have all been made up of naturally occurring microorganisms or toxins. However, the technical-scientific development, enables production of manipulated substances with novel adverse effects. These types of biological warfare agents have been found in past weapons programmes. Thus, due to technological developments, the biological risk spectrum is in constant flux. The Centre for Biosecurity and Biopreparedness constantly monitors these developments in order to be able to adjust the Centre’s preparedness and biosecurity guidelines.

Contact us

Centre for Biosecurity and Biopreparedness 
Statens Serum Institut

5 Artillerivej
DK-2300 Copenhagen S

Telefon: +45 32688127
Email: cbb@ssi.dk