The soldiers defecting from North Korea to the south have been interesting subjects of medical study. The defector who was shot several times was found to have tapeworms up to 11 inches long in his intestines. Fleeing soldiers or civilians are often malnourished and have been denied a lot of basic healthcare. However, the most recent discovery could be indicative of something more serious — a defector was reportedly found with anthrax antibodies in his system.

This would be a good indicator of North Korea possibly having some weaponized version of anthrax in their arsenal. Anthrax is not particularly difficult to manufacture, and while making the aerosol form can be difficult, it is certainly possible for a country like North Korea to have the infrastructure to develop such a weapon.

Color-enhanced scanning electron micrograph shows splenic tissue from a monkey with inhalational anthrax; featured are rod-shaped bacilli (yellow) and an erythrocyte (red) | Wikimedia Commons

The culprit behind infectious disease is the bacterium known as Bacillus anthracis. There are several ways it can hit the human body: via the skin, intestines, lungs or through injection. The injection method has been found with heroin users in places in Europe, but there haven’t been any cases of this in the United States. The other methods express themselves with a variety of symptoms, from black, painless lesions on the skin to the patient having difficulty breathing. The worst of these is inhalation anthrax (through the lungs), and according to the CDC, without treatment, “only about 10 – 15% of patients with inhalation anthrax survive. However, with aggressive treatment, about 55% of patients survive.”

In the United States, there are an average of around two cases a year of anthrax — however, naturally occurring anthrax spores are not what the general population is concerned about. The problem isn’t that anthrax travels through an infected person coming in contact with another — coughing or sneezing onto an unaffected person won’t spread it the way the flu spreads. The problem is that the spores are very small and easy to move around, making it plausible that the infected still have some spores on their person, be it on their clothes or in their car or at their workplace. The CDC says that,