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    Biological and Chemical Weapons

    Browse this alphabetical list of the most commonly known biological and chemical agents. Click on each one to get more information. And see category definitions below.

    Agent

    Type

    Category*

    Anthrax

    Bio

    A

    Botulism

    Bio

    A

    Brucellosis

    Bio

    B

    Chlorine

    Chem

    Choking

    Cyanide

    Chem

    Blood

    Food poisoning

    Bio

    B

    Lewisite

    Chem

    Blister

    Mustard

    Chem

    Blister

    Phosgene

    Chem

    Choking

    Plague

    Bio

    A

    Ricin

    Bio

    B

    Sarin

    Chem

    Nerve

    Smallpox

    Bio

    A

    Soman

    Chem

    Nerve

    Tabun

    Chem

    Nerve

    Tularemia

    Bio

    A

    Viral encephalitis

    Bio

    B

    Viral hemorragic fevers (like Ebola)

    Bio

    A

    VX

    Chem

    Nerve

    Category Definitions

    Biological Diseases/Agents

    The CDC divides biological diseases and agents into categories according to their threat to national security. The top two categories are:

    Category A agents

    • Easily disseminated or transmitted from person to person
    • Result in high mortality rates and have the potential for major public health impact
    • Might cause public panic and social disruption
    • Require special action for public health preparedness

    Category B agents

    • Moderately easy to disseminate or transmit from person to person
    • Result in moderate public health impact and low death rates
    • Require enhancements of CDC's diagnostic and disease surveillance abilities

    Chemical Agents

    Most chemical warfare agents are liquids that evaporate into vapors at varying rates. As effective weapons, they would need to be widely spread by a spray or explosion indoors. Outdoors, even small breezes disperse dangerous vapors.

    Blister agents (vesicants)

    • Inhaled or absorbed via contact with skin
    • Affect eyes, airways, skin, gastrointestinal tract
    • Cause large, often life-threatening blisters that resemble burns

    Blood agents

    • Generally inhaled, distributed through blood
    • Inhibit the body's ability to use oxygen effectively
    • Cause body to "suffocate" from lack of oxygen

    Nerve agents

    • Block a key enzyme, which allows a chemical buildup at key places in the nervous system, causing hyperactivity of muscles and organs
    • Absorbed through skin or lungs by liquid or vapor exposure
    • Affect eyes, nose, airways, gastrointestinal tract, muscles, central nervous system (brain and spinal cord)

    Choking (pulmonary) agents

    • Inhaled and absorbed through lungs
    • Irritate nose, throat, and lungs
    • Cause fluid to build in lungs, effectively "drowning" victim

    WebMD Medical Reference

    Reviewed by David T. Derrer, MD on August 31, 2014

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