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Viruses as Biological Weapons

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Viruses as weapons of mass destruction have been in the forefront of the news following the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian conflict. Historically, smallpox may have been used in the past as a weapon, both by throwing corpses into the battlefield, or supplying American Indians with contaminated blankets. During World War II, the Japanese established a special unit, 731, to test bacterial agents as weapons in China, using humans as experimental animals. In 1972 and entered into force in 1975, 158 countries, including the U.S. and the Soviet Union, signed an agreement known as the “Biological and Toxins Weapons Convention,” in which countries agreed to stop the development of offensive biological and chemical weapons. Unfortunately, there was no clause in the treaty for verification. In 1998, Ken Alibek, a defector from the Soviet Union, published a book, Biohazard, that unmasked wide segments of the Soviet and then Russian biological war program [1], which included the growth of smallpox and other viruses as offensive agents. Although the U.S. had a biological warfare program, following the treaty, it shut down facilities for the production of such weapons. Today, despite the treaty, it is known that many countries are still working on and stockpiling biological weapons.


  • Mass Destruction
  • Chemical Weapon
  • Yersinia Pestis
  • Biological Weapon
  • Francisella Tularensis

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Correspondence to Milton W. Taylor .

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Taylor, M.W. (2014). Viruses as Biological Weapons. In: Viruses and Man: A History of Interactions. Springer, Cham.

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