Can Anthrax be Used as a Weapon of Mass Destruction?

Screen Shot 2018-02-23 at 12.27.30 PM

Recent news reports of North Korea trying to weaponize anthrax have been generating a lot of fear and confusion.  Apparently, the regime has been experimenting with how to use their ballistic missiles as a way to deliver this deadly bacteria to targets as far away as the United States.  However, there are a lot of challenges to overcome before this type of weapon can be used in a real-world attack.  Let’s take a closer look at the anthrax threat and what we can do to protect ourselves from exposure if we ever face this type of scenario in the future.

What is Anthrax and How are We Exposed?

Anthrax is a bacteria that is commonly-found in soil around the world, and exposure to small amounts usually doesn’t pose a serious health risk.  However, anthrax can be fatal if enough spores enter the bloodstream and spread through the lymphatic system.  People at greatest risk include farmers, those who handle livestock, vets or others who interact with contaminated soil, plants or animals.  Basic precautions such as wearing gloves and good hygiene are usually enough to mitigate this risk.

It’s important to note that anthrax is not contagious, and it can’t be passed from person to person.  People need to come into direct contact with bacteria in order to become infected.  Pathways to exposure include injection, digestion, cuts in the skin and inhalation.  However, inhalation is by far the most-dangerous, and breathing spores is what caused nearly 20 deaths in attacks following 9/11.


Infections from injections or cuts on the skin usually produce localized swelling, blistering and rashes that develop within a few days of exposure.  Treatment with appropriate antibiotics can clear up the infection, but it can take more than a month before symptoms subside.  Digestive anthrax occurs when people eat spores from contaminated (usually undercooked) food products.  Symptoms usually include a loss of appetite, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, bloody stools, fever and nausea, however these can become life-threatening if the spores spread throughout the body.

Anthrax that is inhaled gets attacked by our immune system, but spores that survive can quickly multiply and spread.  They produce toxins that destroy healthy tissues, poison the body and cause internal bleeding.  Symptoms can be immediate, or they can take weeks to develop.  The first signs of exposure can be confused with the flu, and sore throats and persistent headaches are also common.

Severe, life-threatening symptoms usually follow within a couple of days, and they come with a vengeance.  Chest pain, difficulty breathing and coughing up blood can lead to respiratory failure or drowning.  The infection can destroy the lungs and spread to other organs, and it can also cause meningitis.  Victims can go from feeling generally unwell to experiencing shock, coma and death within a day or two, and many who do not receive treatment in time will not survive.  Additionally, the mortality rate can be as high as 30% in those who are able to receive prompt and aggressive treatment.


While an airborne attack theoretically represents one of the greatest mass-destruction threats we face, it’s also one of the most difficult to pull off.  The anthrax needs to be delivered in large concentrations, and spores can easily be diluted and carried off by the wind.  Another problem is that putting anthrax in a warhead on a ballistic missile will expose spores to extreme temperatures which can destroy them.

Whether North Korea has found a way to work around this problem is unclear, but it’s really only a matter of time before dedicated research will produce a solution.  However, we still don’t know how many missiles or how much anthrax will be needed in order to make such an attack worth the effort.

In the unlikely event that we are exposed to airborne anthrax, the best thing that we can do is wear a face mask and maintain good sanitary practices until the affected area has been decontaminated.  These basic precautions could have helped those who died in the post- 9/11 attacks, but people weren’t thinking about this as a threat at the time.  We know better now.

It’s also important to remember that the aftermath can be worse than the attack itself.  People can panic, the economy can tank or disruptions to the flow of our normal way of life can occur.  Make sure, especially if you live, work or spend time in densely-populated areas, that you have a plan in place to deal with this type of attack.  Only you can decide whether or not this is a threat that’s worth taking seriously or not.  However, a little bit of preparation can go a long way, because if an attack occurs, it will most-likely happen with little or no warning.


Pin It on Pinterest

Share This
Jason P just claimed a Free FireStriker
Paul just bought a V1-Pro Tactical Flashlight
Jenny just claimed a Free FireStriker
Ken just claimed a Free FireStriker
Sally just claimed a Free FireStriker
Paul just claimed a Free FireStriker
Chris just bought an Ultimate Bug Out Bag
Mike just bought a V1-Pro Tactical Flashlight