Anthrax spores have been weaponised by at least five countries: Britain, Japan, the United States, Russia and Iraq
Anthrax is the name of the potentially-deadly disease caused by the spores of bacteria Bacillus anthracis.
As the disease can survive in harsh climates, Anthrax spores have been weaponised by at least five countries: Britain, Japan, the United States, Russia and Iraq.
The disease can be contracted by touching, inhaling or swallowing spores, which can lie dormant in water and soil for years.
It is most deadly, however, when the spores are inhaled, which is why the threat of a letter containing the disease is taken very seriously by authorities.
About 80 per cent of people who inhale the spores will die, in some cases even with immediate medical intervention.
Use as a biological weapon
Anthrax’s first documented use as a weapon of warfare was by the Japanese in the 1930s, where thousands of prisoners of war were intentionally infected and died.
British trials of the disease on Gruinard Island in Scotland in 1942 severely contaminated the land for half a century, making it a no-go area until 1990.
The disease is particularly dangerous as its spores can be cultivated with minimal scientific training and special equipment.
Letters containing the deadly spores was mailed to several news outlets and the offices of two politicians in America, in what came to be known as the 2001 Anthrax attacks.
Biodefence researcher Dr Bruce Ivins (left) is the sole suspect of the 2001 Anthrax attacks, in whcih letters (right) containing the disease were mailed across the USA
As a result, 22 were infected and five people died after just a few grams who used across all the letters.
In 2008, biodefence researcher Dr Bruce Ivins was named as a suspect but committed suicide before he could face any charges.
What are the symptoms of Anthrax?
Once inside the body they become active and start producing toxins, which cause the disease and manifest and spread.
Symptoms range from blisters to shortness of breath or diarrhea, depending on how it enters the body.
The vast majority of cases are caused by skin contact. This is the least deadly form of the disease, with 75 per cent of patients surviving without treatment.
Anthrax naturally infects many species of grazing mammals such as sheep, cattle and goats, which are infected through ingestion of soil contaminated by B. anthracis spores. The spores may remain dormant for many years.
Infection generally occurs 1 to 7 days after exposure but occasionally, if inhaled, cases may present 2 to 3 months later.
Sources: NHS and US Centers for Disease Control