Recent years have witnessed an enormous resurgence of interest in chemical and biological weapons (CBW). Although "unconventional" warfare with chemical and biological agents has been practiced since antiquity, it was not until the 20th century that such weapons were manufactured and used on a mass scale. In addition to battlefield use, chemical weapons may appeal to terrorist groups, in that the technology and financial outlay required to produce them is much less than for nuclear weapons, although the potential morbidity, mortality, and societal impact remain high (Table 131–1).
Table 131–1. Unconventional Weapons: Definitions and Acronyms |Favorite Table|Download (.pdf)
Table 131–1. Unconventional Weapons: Definitions and Acronyms
|Chemical warfare||Intentional use of weapons designed to kill, injure, or incapacitate on the basis of toxic or noxious chemical properties|
|Biological warfare||Intentional use of microorganisms or xenobiotics derived from living organisms to cause death, disability, or damage in humans, animals, or plants|
|Terrorism||The unlawful use of force against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives|
|CW||Chemical warfare, or chemical weapon|
|BW||Biological warfare, or biological weapon|
|CBW||Chemical and/or biological warfare, or weapons|
|NBC||Nuclear, biological and/or chemical; usually in reference to weapons|
|CBRNE||Chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive; usually in reference to weapons|
|WMD||Weapon of mass destruction; nuclear, radiologic, chemical, or biological weapon intended to produce mass casualties|
Chemical weapons clearly fall within the purview of medical toxicology. Indeed, unlike the many drugs and chemicals widely studied by toxicologists that may incidentally cause poisonings, these compounds were specifically designed to kill, injure, or incapacitate. Some compounds generally considered nonlethal, such as tear gas and pepper spray, are therefore also considered chemical weapons. Biological warfare agents share some characteristics with chemical agents (Table 131–2) and are covered in Chap. 132, although the issues common to both chemical and biological weapons are discussed in this chapter.
Table 131–2. Chemical versus Biological Weapons: Comparison and Contrast27 |Favorite Table|Download (.pdf)
Table 131–2. Chemical versus Biological Weapons: Comparison and Contrast27
|Xenobiotics most effectively dispersed in aerosol or vapor forms|
|Delivery systems frequently similar|
|Movement of xenobiotics highly subject to wind and weather conditions|
|Appropriate personal protective equipment prevents illness|
|Differences||Chemical Weapons (CW)||Biological Weapons (BW)|
|Rate at which attack results in illness||Rapid, usually minutes to hours||Delayed, usually days to weeks|
Rapid clinical effects
Possible chemical odor
Commercially available chemical detectors
Lack of color, odor, or taste
Limited development of real-time detectors
Liquids semipersistent to persistent
|Generally nonpersistent most BW agents degraded by sunlight, heat, desiccation (exception: anthrax spores)|
|Victim distribution||Near and downwind from release point||Victims may be widely dispersed by time disease is apparent|
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