- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 18, 2001

One could almost hear the thudding footsteps of Washingtonians sprinting to the nearest drugstore to get a fix of Cipro after it became clear yesterday that men and women working in and around the offices of Sens. Tom Daschle and Russ Feingold had been exposed to a highly refined form of Bacillius anthracis, the bacteria that causes anthrax. Understanding that this is precisely the response that the terrorists were hoping for does not make it any easier to many of us to remain calm. After all, screaming nerves and rushing feet, aggravated by shrill television coverage that one wag calls "a weapon of mass distraction," can overwhelm the brain. However, Washingtonians should take a deep breath, even if waiting at the pharmaceutical counter. There are many reasons not to surrender to fear.
In the first place, anthrax is not contagious. Second, only four persons have actually been diagnosed with anthrax, which works out to .0000000113 percent of the the population of 300 million. About three dozen more Americans have been exposed to the bacillius. An exposure means just that that a person has come into contact with the bacterium. Third, anthrax infections do not necessarily follow exposure in fact, they usually don't thanks to the body's many natural defenses. The body can successfully fight off anthrax with antibiotics. Moreover, despite the run on Cipro, the strains of anthrax used in the attacks appear to be vulnerable to many classes of antibiotics, including fluoroquinolone (Cipro is in this class), tetracycline and penicillin.
Nevertheless, Americans need more than the mental relief that they feel after running up a high bill on antibiotics. Prompt and accurate information averts many fears, and to avoid a further rush of panic, the federal government should promptly begin a campaign to provide continuous information about anthrax in particular and bioterrorism in general, preferably vocalized by a familiar face and voice.
U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher is the logical familiar face and voice. The problem is, Dr. Satcher, a Clinton appointee, appears to be MIA during these crucial times. He is a former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and a former administrator of the Agency of Toxic Substances and Diseases Registry. He's definitely in the know. Yet he has been all but invisible since Sept. 11, as if his priorities remain safe-sex education for teen-agers, and drugs and teen-agers. America has more pressing needs at the moment. Indeed, other precautionary, preventative and public service steps should be considered as well.
War is serious, which makes these serious times indeed. So, the first step is to stop sprinting and take a deep calming breath and to listen to familiar voices of reason.

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