Another bacterium which could be used as a biological weapon is Clostridium botulinum, which causes botulism.
Like anthrax, botulinum bacteria form spores and go into a dormant phase when not in a host. Also like anthrax, botulinum bacteria do not kill you- it is the toxins which they produce as they are growing that can be fatal.
The Clostridium botulinum spores themselves are not so bad, because they are actually all around us. You unknowingly ingest them every day and they are harmless. The problem is that when they are allowed to grow into vegetative cells, they produce a deadly nerve toxin that causes botulism, and even tiny amounts of that toxin can kill you.
The botulinum toxin (Botox) is one of the strongest poisons on earth, 100,000 times stronger than Sarin nerve gas. One gram of botulinum poison could kill more than one million people if the delivery/dispersal system problem could be solved.
Unfortunately, certain nations which are hostile to the United States are working on solving that delivery problem.
There is now a man-made, respiratory version of what nature has provided.
The good news is that it is a prohibitively expensive and sophisticated process to weaponize the botulinum toxin.
Still, North Korea and Iran are experimenting with it, isolating the deadlier strains of the toxin-producing bacterium and coupling it with a compatible air spray delivery system.
Iran even used botulinum toxin in bombs during the Gulf War.
All strains of botulinum bacteria produce toxin, but some are much deadlier than others.
Symptoms of botulism
Botulism symptoms include:
- Double vision
- Blurred vision
- Slurred speech
- Difficulty swallowing
- Dry mouth
- And muscle weakness.
Later, the muscle-weakening effects move down the body, spreading to the other muscles.
The botulinum toxin kills by paralysis.
It does this by blocking the messages from the nerves to the muscles, rendering the muscles useless.
Since the botulinum toxin is a large molecule and cannot cross the blood-brain barrier of the brain, the victim stays awake and is mentally unimpaired as the paralysis spreads.
Death is usually caused by respiratory failure as the toxin overtakes the respiratory muscles and renders them useless.
Treatment consists of an antitoxin made from the blood of horses that have been exposed to the botulinum toxin.
However, the antitoxin only prevents further damage. It does not reverse any muscle paralysis that the botulinum toxin has already caused. After several weeks of treatment, however, the paralysis does slowly improve.
In the event of a sprayed biological agent attack, your best bet is to cover your mouth with a wet cloth, leave the area as fast as possible, and seek medical help immediately.
The antitoxin is available 24/7 through the Center For Disease Control.
Like anthrax, botulism is not contagious.