Bioterrorism Watch

A bioterrorism time line


Barbarossa uses the bodies of dead soldiers to poison the wells at the battle of Tortona.


Mongols catapult corpses of plague victims into the city of Kaffa to infect the defenders.


British commander Sir Jeffrey Amherst ordered the transfers of blankets used by British smallpox victims to Native American tribes, ostensibly as a gesture of goodwill, with the intention of inducing illness.


The United States ends its programs of developing biological agents for use in warfare. The offensive use of such weapons was forbidden by U.S. policy under executive orders of President Richard Nixon.


Soviet Union signs off on Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, but continues a high-intensity program to develop and produce biological weapons at least through the early 1990s. Hundreds of tons of weaponized anthrax spores are stockpiled, along with dozens of tons of smallpox and plague. Many of these agents are reputed to have been specifically designed to be resistant to common antibiotics.


Members of the Rajneesh cult contaminated salad bars in Oregon with salmonella, resulting in the infection of 751 people. The Paris Police raided a residence suspected of being a safe house for the German Red Army Faction. During the search, they found documentation and a bathtub filled with flasks containing Clostridium Botulinum.


Japan’s Aum Shinrykyo cult plans attacks using biological agents, specifically, anthrax and botulinum toxin. While these biological attacks were not successful, cult members later implemented the release of sarin nerve gas in the Tokyo subway system.


A U.S. microbiologist with right-wing ties orders bubonic plague cultures by mail. The ease with which he obtained these cultures prompts new legislation to ensure that biologic materials are destined for legitimate medical and scientific purposes.


A variety of feigned exposures to anthrax spores occurred in several U.S. cities including Indianapolis, where a full-scale response by emergency services and public health occurred before the episode was found to be a hoax.


1. Stewart C. Topics in Emergency Medicine: Biological Warfare. Preparing for the Unthinkable Emergency. Atlanta: American Health Consultants; 2000.

2. Bosker G. Bioterrorism: An update for clinicians, pharmacists, and emergency management planners. Emergency Medicine Reports (in press) 2001.