Drawing: Cobra helicopter Drawing: Cobra helicopter
Chapter 23 - Page 4


The use of biological agents is real. Prepare yourself for survival by being proficient in the tasks identified in your Soldier's Manuals of Common Tasks (SMCTs). Know what to do to protect yourself against these agents.

Biological Agents and Effects

Biological agents are microorganisms that can cause disease among personnel, animals, or plants. They can also cause the deterioration of material. These agents fall into two broad categories-pathogens (usually called germs) and toxins. Pathogens are living microorganisms that cause lethal or incapacitating diseases. Bacteria, rickettsiae, fungi, and viruses are included in the pathogens. Toxins are poisons that plants, animals, or microorganisms produce naturally. Possible biological war-fare toxins include a variety of neurotoxic (affecting the central nervous system) and cytotoxic (causing cell death) compounds.


Germs are living organisms. Some nations have used them in the past as weapons. Only a few germs can start an infection, especially if inhaled into the lungs. Because germs are so small and weigh so little, the wind can spread them over great distances; they can also enter unfiltered or non-airtight places. Buildings and bunkers can trap them thus causing a higher concentration. Germs do not affect the body immediately. They must multiply inside the body and overcome the body's defenses—a process called the incubation period. Incubation periods vary from several hours to several months, depending on the germ. Most germs must live within another living organism (host), such as your body, to survive and grow. Weather conditions such as wind, rain, cold, and sunlight rapidly kill germs.

Some germs can form protective shells, or spores, to allow survival outside the host. Spore-producing agents are a long-term hazard you must neutralize by decontaminating infected areas or personnel. Fortunately, most live agents are not spore-producing. These agents must find a host within roughly a day of their delivery or they die. Germs have three basic routes of entry into your body: through the respiratory tract, through a break in the skin, and through the digestive tract. Symptoms of infection vary according to the disease.


Toxins are substances that plants, animals, or germs produce naturally. These toxins are what actually harm man, not bacteria. Botulin, which produces botulism, is an example. Modern science has allowed large-scale production of these toxins without the use of the germ that produces the toxin. Toxins may produce effects similar to those of chemical agents. Toxic victims may not, however, respond to first aid measures used against chemical agents. Toxins enter the body in the same manner as germs. However, some toxins, unlike germs, can penetrate unbroken skin. Symptoms appear almost immediately, since there is no incubation period. Many toxins are extremely lethal, even in very small doses. Symptoms may include any of the following:

Detection of Biological Agents

Biological agents are, by nature, difficult to detect. You cannot detect them by any of the five physical senses. Often, the first sign of a biological agent will be symptoms of the victims exposed to the agent. Your best chance of detecting biological agents before they can affect you is to recognize their means of delivery. The three main means of delivery are —

Another sign of a possible biological attack is the presence of unusual substances on the ground or on vegetation, or sick-looking plants, crops, or animals.

Influence of Weather and Terrain

Your knowledge of how weather and terrain affect the agents can help you avoid contamination by biological agents. Major weather factors that affect biological agents are sunlight, wind, and precipitation. Aerosol sprays will tend to concentrate in low areas of terrain, similar to early morning mist.

Sunlight contains visible and ultraviolet solar radiation that rapidly kills most germs used as biological agents. However, natural or man-made cover may protect some agents from sunlight. Other man-made mutant strains of germs may be resistant to sunlight.

High wind speeds increase the dispersion of biological agents, dilute their concentration, and dehydrate them. The further downwind the agent travels, the less effective it becomes due to dilution and death of the pathogens. However, the downwind hazard area of the biological agent is significant and you cannot ignore it.

Precipitation in the form of moderate to heavy rain tends to wash biological agents out of the air, reducing downwind hazard areas. However, the agents may still be very effective where they were deposited on the ground.

Protection Against Biological Agents

While you must maintain a healthy respect for biological agents, there is no reason for you to panic. You can reduce your susceptibility to biological agents by maintaining current immunizations, avoiding contaminated areas, and controlling rodents and pests. You must also use proper first aid measures in the treatment of wounds and only safe or properly decontaminated sources of food and water. You must ensure that you get enough sleep to prevent a run-down condition. You must always use proper field sanitation procedures.

Assuming you do not have a protective mask, always try to keep your face covered with some type of cloth to protect yourself against biological agent aerosols. Dust may contain biological agents; wear some type of mask when dust is in the air.

Your uniform and gloves will protect you against bites from vectors (mosquitoes and ticks) that carry diseases. Completely button your clothing and tuck your trousers tightly into your boots. Wear a chemical protective overgarment, if available, as it provides better protection than normal clothing. Covering your skin will also reduce the chance of the agent entering your body through cuts or scratches. Always practice high standards of personal hygiene and sanitation to help prevent the spread of vectors.

Bathe with soap and water whenever possible. Use germicidal soap, if available. Wash your hair and body thoroughly, and clean under your fingernails. Clean teeth, gums, tongue, and the roof of your mouth frequently. Wash your clothing in hot, soapy water if you can. If you cannot wash your clothing, lay it out in an area of bright sunlight and allow the light to kill the microorganisms. After a toxin attack, decontaminate yourself as if for a chemical attack using the M258A2 kit (if available) or by washing with soap and water.


You can build expedient shelters under biological contamination conditions using the same techniques described in Chapter 5. However, you must make slight changes to reduce the chance of biological contamination. Do not build your shelter in depressions in the ground. Aerosol sprays tend to concentrate in these depressions. Avoid building your shelter in areas of vegetation, as vegetation provides shade and some degree of protection to biological agents. Avoid using vegetation in constructing your shelter. Place your shelter's entrance at a 90-degree angle to the prevailing winds. Such placement will limit the entry of airborne agents and prevent air stagnation in your shelter. Always keep your shelter clean.

Water Procurement

Water procurement under biological conditions is difficult but not impossible. Whenever possible, try to use water that has been in a sealed container. You can assume that the water inside the sealed container is not contaminated. Wash the water container thoroughly with soap and water or boil it for at least 10 minutes before breaking the seal.

If water in sealed containers is not available, your next choice, only under emergency conditions, is water from springs. Again, boil the water for at least 10 minutes before drinking. Keep the water covered while boiling to prevent contamination by airborne pathogens. Your last choice, only in an extreme emergency, is to use standing water. Vectors and germs can survive easily in stagnant water. Boil this water as long as practical to kill all organisms. Filter this water through a cloth to remove the dead vectors. Use water purification tablets in all cases.

Food Procurement

Food procurement, like water procurement, is not impossible, but you must take special precautions. Your combat rations are sealed, and you can assume they are not contaminated. You can also assume that sealed containers or packages of processed food are safe. To ensure safety, decontaminate all food containers by washing with soap and water or by boiling the container in water for 10 minutes.

You consider supplementing your rations with local plants or animals only in extreme emergencies. No matter what you do to prepare the food, there is no guarantee that cooking will kill all the biological agents. Use local food only in life or death situations. Remember, you can survive for a long time without food, especially if the food you eat may kill you!

If you must use local food, select only healthy-looking plants and animals. Do not select known carriers of vectors such as rats or other vermin. Select and prepare plants as you would in radioactive areas. Prepare animals as you do plants. Always use gloves and protective clothing when handling animals or plants. Cook all plant and animal food by boiling only. Boil all food for at least 10 minutes to kill all pathogens. Do not try to fry, bake, or roast local food. There is no guarantee that all infected portions have reached the required temperature to kill all pathogens. Do not eat raw food.

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Updated: 12 January 2008
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