The weapon potential of a microbe

Trends Microbiol. 2004 Jun;12(6):259-63. doi: 10.1016/j.tim.2004.04.007.


The designation of a microbe as a potential biological weapon poses the vexing question of how such a decision is made given the many pathogenic microbes that cause disease. Analysis of the properties of microbes that are currently considered biological weapons against humans revealed no obvious relationship to virulence, except that all are pathogenic for humans. Notably, the weapon potential of a microbe rather than its pathogenic properties or virulence appeared to be the major consideration when categorizing certain agents as biological weapons. In an effort to standardize the assessment of the risk that is posed by microbes as biological warfare agents using the basic principles of microbial communicability (defined here as a parameter of transmission) and virulence, a simple formula is proposed for estimating the weapon potential of a microbe.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / pathogenicity*
  • Bacterial Infections / microbiology
  • Bacterial Infections / transmission
  • Biological Warfare*
  • Bioterrorism*
  • Disease Transmission, Infectious
  • Fungi / pathogenicity*
  • Humans
  • Mathematics
  • Mycoses / microbiology
  • Mycoses / transmission
  • Virulence
  • Virus Diseases / transmission
  • Virus Diseases / virology
  • Viruses / pathogenicity*