Can Ebola be developed into a biological weapon? This question addresses the concerns of many following the most recent Ebola outbreaks in the past few years. The Ebola outbreak could quite possibly be the most deadly of this decade. It has affected many and still lives without a cure. The prospect of concentrating this into a biological weapon would be detrimental to the lives of many. However, the most restrictive part of the possible weapon sprouts from its instability and the obstacles needed to pass through to sustain the virus long enough to survive and utilize its abilities.
If there was a way to accomplish this, and or bypass these issues, a highly deadly, massively contagious virus would be accessible for weaponization, leaving people, animals, and food and water supplies vulnerable for contamination. The most deadly factor would be the high mortality rate and effectiveness of Ebola if gone untreated. A weapon of this caliber could be cataclysmic if put into the wrong group’s hands and nations should take caution in monitoring the future of bio weapons.
Ebola Virus Disease, or EVD, is a disease infecting both humans and primates. Symptoms that occur because of it include fevers, severe headaches, diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and hemorrhages. Ebola’s prosperity grew from its rapid spread amongst people and animals, and its effective mortality rate. Ebola is transmitted through touch or near contact with someone or something affected. It is not however, airborne. This limits its ability to carry over long distances and become a worldwide threat.
The average rate of death is 50% with the range being 25%-90%.
Ebola is a contagious disease that can be transmitted in many different ways. These include: saliva, touching a contaminated surface, blood products, and animal or insect bites. Ebola is lethal, and in some outbreaks as many as 90% of the people infected died. Overall, the fatality rate is 53%, and that ranges from different countries like 64% in Guinea and 39% in Sierra Leone. The largest Ebola outbreak in history took place in West Africa in 2014. In the countries of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, there were 28,610 reported cases of the disease, according to the CDC. Of the 28,610 people, 11,308 of them died, which is a fatality rate of 39.5%. “Identification of cases was difficult because of weak surveillance and a fragile public health infrastructure. Poor infection control measures and strained health care systems also contributed to the devastation of this outbreak” (CDC 1). Since the countries had outbreaks of the disease are relatively poor countries, the control of the disease was difficult, and it was declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.
Unfortunately, there is no current cure for the disease, there is difficulty in stopping the spread of it, especially in Africa, which has a poor health infrastructure. At the moment, there is an ongoing outbreak happening in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The outbreak began on August 1st when there was a confirmed case in North Kivu. In October, there were 267 cases of Ebola in the country. One-hundred seventy of those infected died, and there is no sign of the outbreak stopping any time soon. The country that borders the DRC, Uganda, also has had some confirmed cases of the outbreak, which shows that the disease can spread all across the country, and maybe even the world. The lack of a cure at the moment leaves people vulnerable, but there are experimental vaccines that could hopefully be used to treat the disease in the future. Ebola is treated in several ways, one being by providing fluids through the vain. Offering oxygen therapy, using medication for blood pressure, and treating other infections that occur are other viable options to those in need. People who recover can develop long-lasting antibodies, but others can have complications after recovering from the disease. Medical professionals and facilities are rare in the world, enabling the expansion of diseases. Things like global travel are a factor in the spread of ideas ease and Ebola has caused numerous countries to step up their health security.
An important question is whether Ebola can be used as a biological weapon. What is a biological weapon? A biological weapon, or BW, is a weapon used to create destruction or mass damage to people, animals or crops, and it is utilized in warfare. They deliver viruses and bacteria to infect people and animals with diseases that can result in the deaths of a large amount of people. Biological weapons are usually administered through the air, and a person would have to breathe enough of the weapon in to cause illness. Another way is to contaminate a water or food source, which is not as effective because it requires a substantial amount of the weapon to do damage. The U.S. may be vulnerable to biological weapon attacks. ISIS boasts about attacks on the U.S. which means that terrorist organizations are ready for weaponized disease attacks. There are currently 16 countries that are suspected of having biological weapons: Canada, China, Cuba, France, Germany, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Japan, Libya, North Korea, Russia, South Africa, Syria, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Some of the most common biological weapons are Anthrax, Botulism, and Variola, which all have a deadly effect. Anthrax is the most commonly used biological weapon, and it is capable of killing millions of people. The bacteria form in spores, and it is said that a deadly dose of anthrax is between 8,000 and 50,000 spores. One gram of the bacteria is capable of containing one trillion spores, which can cause 20 to 100 million deaths. In 2001, two U.S. Senators were each sent a gram of anthrax in the mail, which could have killed 40 to 200 million people. Anthrax is very viable for killing not simply for the mortality rate, but the durability of it. It can undergo various climate changes and still survive, making it a dependable weapon. Botulism is a toxin that comes naturally from forest soil, lakes, and streams. It first gained attention when Iraq revealed it had produced 19,000 liters of Botulism. That amount was capable of killing the entire population of Earth. Variola, or smallpox, has been weaponized in the past and can be absolutely devastating. It is not as worrying today, since the disease has been eradicated.
Diseases have been used as weapons for centuries and are very effective during war. Scythian archers dipped their arrows in decomposing bodies to infect their targets. Dead animals have been used by Romans, Greeks, and Persian to contaminate wells and other sources of water. Anthrax however, is the most notable biological weapon that has been used in the past. There have been numerous unsuccessful biological weapon attacks. One is the anthrax and botulinum toxin weaponization done by Aum Shrinrikyo. Another is the attack on news agencies and U.S. Senators, which wasn’t completely unsuccessful, but the death toll wasn’t as high as hoped by the terrorists who perpetrated the act. They are, however, still incredibly dangerous and should always be a cause for concern in warfare circumstances. “The Japanese cult Aum Shinrikyo—infamous for setting off sarin gas in a Tokyo subway in 1995—also looked into Ebola as a potential biological weapon. In 1992, they sent a medical group of 40 people ostensibly to help provide aid during an Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Their real purpose, however, was to collect some Ebola virus.”(Maron 1)
To make Ebola into a biological weapon, a host needs to be obtained, which isn’t easy. There are few animals that serve as hosts. Primates, bats, and forest antelope are some examples of Ebola hosts, but they aren’t easy to detain. The virus would need to be extracted from the host in a laboratory. It would be nearly impossible for anyone to be able to keep the host alive and have access to a Category 4 Laboratory long enough to weaponize this infectious disease. “While the virus is easily spread through personal contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person, it would be difficult to manipulate and control. Put simply, a large amount of Ebola in the hands of a rogue group would more likely end up killing the plotters than making it to the endgame of a bioterrorism mission.” (Maron 2)
Ebola’s transmission process is entirely through ingestion and infection by touch, as Ebola is not an airborne virus. Ebola is susceptible to the climate, unlike anthrax, which makes it difficult to be weaponized. It is very sensitive to sunlight and extreme temperatures, and once removed from a host, it is challenging to keep alive. However, it is detrimental to those who cross its path. It would be difficult to weaponize Ebola as of right now, but opportunities may arise in the upcoming years, such as adaptations within the virus itself and technological advancements that would allow the creation of an Ebola based biological weapon possible. “The second, and perhaps easiest, small-scale bioterrorism option would be to recruit individuals for Ebola suicide missions. Such a plan would hinge on injecting Ebola virus into a limited number of people, who would then need to leave west Africa (or wherever the outbreak may be) before becoming symptomatic. Then those individuals would have to get into a public space and projectile vomit or bleed onto others to infect them. Obviously the plot would need to overcome substantial technical challenges including the extreme weakness that arises from Ebola. If it did succeed, this mode of transmission would not kill thousands of people, but it would set off significant fears.” (Maron 3)
The prospect of Ebola Virus Disease becoming a biological weapon is unlike as of right now because of apparent limitations, but is not ruled out from the future and would be incredibly difficult to defend against if it was developed. In the following years, nations must keep this situation in mind and monitor upcoming advances in the Biological weapon field. A possible creation of a Biological Weapon made from Ebola could have devastating consequences on all of civilization and leave countries in ruin. The ongoing spread of the disease has generated a fear that terrorist organization will use it as a weapon in the future. The chances are low, however, as stated earlier, the disease is very difficult to obtain and control, but it is always best to prepare for it. In an age when leaders of certain countries or terrorist organizations are power hungry and will do anything to dominate the world, the possibilities of doing so are endless. The weaponization of diseases, including Ebola, are an important factor to look out for, since they can take countless lives.