Although the use of microorganisms as weapons is as old a practice as war itself, the sense of our collective vulnerability to these agents has seldom been as great. The events of late 2001 demonstrated that the United States is vulnerable to terrorist attack carried out by highly motivated, organized, funded, and trained individuals. It is our collective good fortune that the perpetrator of the anthrax mailings was not bent on destruction of the scale witnessed on September 11, 2001. Because acute care and critical care nurses are on the forefront of community disease surveillance, they must be aware of the signs and symptoms of illness that may indicate that a biological attack has taken place. Many symptoms of infection or intoxication by biological warfare agents (bacterial, viral, and toxic) are nonspecific and flulike in nature, at least early in the disease process. The essential details of the presentation, diagnosis, treatment, and prophylaxis of the biological warfare agents that merit greatest concern are provided, and five biological warfare agents of particular interest are described in detail: anthrax, ricin (castor bean) toxin, smallpox, plague, and tularemia. Recommendations are given for additional Web-based resources to allow further study.

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