Lead researcher Dr Ashok Chopra, whose research is being backed by the Department of Defense, warns the scenario is a more realistic prospect than we think. 'Terrorists can easily grow the bacteria and make the strains resistant to antibiotics,' Dr Chopra, a microbiologist and immunologist at the University of Texas microbiologist, told Daily Mail Online.
'The pneumonic plague is very contagious and very hard to treat. It could kill millions. 'Think of the Black Death of the 14th century. It is not unrealistic that we would experience the same number of mass casualties. It could be quite devastating.'
There are three strains of the plague - pneumonic, bubonic, and septicemic - all caused by bacteria called Yersinia pestis. The most common type is the bubonic plague, typically found on animals and transmitted to humans via fleas.
It was the bubonic plague that caused the Black Death, as well as America's first outbreak in 1900 when infected animals were imported from Asia to San Francisco. However, the pneumonic plague, which is airborne, is fatal almost 100 percent of the time.
Comment: Although a horrible disease, Bubonic plague is not the infamous Black Death that killed half of Europe's population in the Middle Ages, according to recent research. The latter was likely to be caused in part by pathogens brought to Earth by comets. See this book review for more information:
New Light on the Black Death: The Cosmic Connection