A brief history of anthrax


Early 18th century
Anthrax kills half of the sheep in Europe, anthrax became to be known as Woolsorter's disease


1870s, Robert Koch and Louis Pasteur study anthrax intensely
Koch traces lifecycle of anthrax, discovering its strong resistance to adverse conditions. He discovered disease can be transferred only by transfer of the bacteria, resulting in the development of Koch's Postulates.
Pasteur inoculates cattle with an attenuated live organism in attempts to develop a vaccine.


1932-1945 Japanese develop biological weapons in Unit 731
Soviet Union discovered that the Japanese had produced 900 lbs of anthrax bacteria (as well as other bacteria) with the intent to use it as a biological weapon. Believed that 10, 000 prisoners of war died due to experiments at Unit 731.


1942 British Test anthrax on Gruinard Island
In response to rumored attacks using biological weapons by German forces, the British sanction testing of anthrax bombs on Gruinard Island. Scientists exploded bombs containing anthrax near sheep, which started dying three days later. Due to the resistance of the anthrax spores, the island was quarantined for 50 years. The government then decided to try and disinfect the island by soaking the ground with formaldehyde, and removing some of the contaminated soil. Sheep were then placed on the island to determine if the project was successful. The island was deemed safe in 1990.


1945 Anthrax in Iran
An outbreak of anthrax in Iran is said to have killed over 1 million sheep. This number was confirmed in a unpublished report issued by the Iranian government.


1978-1980 Anthrax outbreak in Zimbabwe
During a period of civil war, over 10,000 human cases of anthrax were reported, resulting in 182 deaths. An enormous amount of cattle were also infected, making most of the lifestock tainted with disease. Anthrax was spread through 6 of the 8 provinces, making it difficult to determine a source, as well as the type of vector involved in the spread of the bacteria. Although unconfirmed, it was suggested anthrax was deliberately spread through the country. (Click here for further information)


1979 Anthrax outbreak in Sverdlovsk, Russia
The Soviet Union was thought to have one of the largest biological weapons program. At one of their secret military bases named Compound 19, in Sverdlovsk, there was an anthrax outbreak believed to have killed 68 people. The Russians denied that the deaths were due anthrax, since a treaty had been signed prohibiting the production of biological weapons in 1972. It was later discovered that Compound 19 was a major site of anthrax production. A failure to change a filter in a vent within the production facility by maintenance personnel was determined to be the cause. (Click here for further information)


1989 Alibekov Anthrax
Working for Biopreparat in the Sovient Union, Dr. Kanatjan Alibekov was the head scientist overseeing a project that involved the engineering of a more deadly form of anthrax. In 1989, the Alibekov anthrax strain became fully operational as bioweapon. This strain of anthrax is said to be four times more efficient than the original strain of B. anthracis. (Click here for further information)


2001 Anthrax in the United States
A photographer feeling very ill is diagnosed with meningitis and then dies 3 days after his diagnosis. An employee who delivered mail in the same office as the photographer becomes ill, and is diagnosed with pneumonia. In both cases B. anthracis was later found in their blood. An investigation discovered anthrax spores in the mail room of their office. In the following months, 11 more cases of inhalation anthrax, and 11 cases of cutaneous anthrax were reported. It was believed that spores were being transferred in letters coming through the mail as a result of a terrorist attack.