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A sampling of Bacillus anthracis—Anthrax

A biological agent is a bacterium, virus, prion, fungus, or biological toxin that can be used in bioterrorism or biological warfare. More than 1200 different kinds of biological agents have been described and studied to date. Applying a slightly broader definition, some eukaryotes (for example parasites) and their associated toxins can be considered as biological agents.

Biological agents have the ability to adversely affect human health in a variety of ways, ranging from relatively mild allergic reactions to serious medical conditions, even death. These organisms are ubiquitous in the natural environment; they are found in water, soil, plants, and animals. Because many biological agents reproduce rapidly and require minimal resources for preservation, they are a potential danger in a wide variety of occupational settings.

Biological and toxin agents of military importance[]

Bacterial Biological Agents[]

Disease Causative Agent (Military Symbol) Comments
Anthrax Bacillus anthracis (N) or (TR)
Brucellosis (bovine) Brucella abortus (AB)
Brucellosis (caprine) Brucella melitensis (AM) or (BX)
Brucellosis (porcine) Brucella suis (US) or (NX)
Cholera Vibrio cholerae (HO)
Diphtheria Corynebacterium diphtheriae (DK)
Dysentery (bacterial) Shigella dysenteriae, some species of Escherichia coli (Y)
Glanders Burkholderia mallei (LA)
Listeriosis Listeria monocytogenes (TQ)
Melioidosis Burkholderia pseudomallei (HI)
Yersinia pestis (LE)
Tularemia Francisella tularensis (SR) or (JT)

Chlamydial Biological Agents[]

Disease Causative Agent (Military Symbol) Comments
Psittacosis Chlamydophila psittaci (SI)

Rickettsial Biological Agents[]

Disease Causative Agent (Military Symbol) Comments
Q fever Coxiella burnetii (OU)
Rocky Mountain spotted fever Rickettsia rickettsii (RI) or (UY)
Typhus (human) Rickettsia prowazekii (YE)
Typhus (murine) Rickettsia typhi (AV)

Viral Biological Agents[]

Disease Causative Agent (Military Symbol) Comments
Equine Encephalitis (Eastern) Eastern equine encephalitis virus (ZX)
Equine Encephalitis (Venezuelan) Venezuelan Equine Encephalomyelitis virus (FX)
Equine Encephalitis (Western) Western equine encephalitis virus (FX)
Japanese B encephalitis Japanese encephalitis virus (AN)
Rift Valley fever Rift Valley fever virus(FA)
Smallpox Variola virus (ZL)
Yellow fever Yellow fever virus (OJ)

Mycotic Biological Agents[]

Disease Causative Agent (Military Symbol) Comments
Coccidiomycosis Coccidioides immitis (OC)

Biological Toxins[]

Toxin Source of Toxin (Military Symbol) Comments
Botulinum toxins (A through G) (X) or (XR)
Ricin castor bean (Ricinus communis) (W) or (WA)
Saxitoxin various marine dinoflagellates (TZ) or (SS)
Staphyloccocal enterotoxin B Staphylococcus aureus (UC) or (PG)
Tetrodotoxin various marine bacteria, including Vibrio alginolyticus, Pseudoalteromonas tetraodonis (PP)
Trichothecene mycotoxins various species of fungi, including Fusarium, Trichoderma, and Stachybotrys

Biological Vectors[]

Vector (Military Symbol) Disease Comments
Mosquito (Aedes aegypti) (AP) Malaria, Dengue fever, Yellow fever, other Arboviruses
Oriental rat flea (Xenopsylla cheopis) , Murine typhus


  • MR - molasis residium
  • BG - Bacillus globigii
  • BS - Bacillus globigii
  • U - Bacillus globigii
  • SM - Serratia marescens
  • P - Serratia marescens
  • AF - Aspergillus fumigatus mutant C-2
  • EC - E. coli
  • BT - Bacillus thursidius
  • EH - Erwinia hebicola
  • FP - fluorescent particle

See also[]

  • Toxin
  • Biological hazard
  • Laboratory Response Network

External links[]

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