- The Washington Times - Monday, October 22, 2001

Dire warnings that anthrax attacks could kill hordes of people are largely responsible for public hysteria about a highly treatable condition that federal officials now seek to quell.
Historically, articles about anthrax in such publications as the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), Science, Science News and Foreign Affairs, as well as scientific books on germ warfare, have painted a bleak picture.
"Anthrax patients would be expected to develop fulminating, toxic, and fatal illness despite antibiotic treatment," a distinguished group of 18 researchers reported in the June 6 issue of JAMA.
The article predicted that targets of a biological weapon that produces tularemia, a plague-like infection, would not become sick as fast, or die as quickly, as those subjected "to inhalational plague or anthrax."
But Cipro, the antimicrobial medicine currently being used to treat the disease, has proven effective even when there was a significant delay in diagnosis. The drug was approved just 11 months ago by the Food and Drug Administration, specifically to treat anthrax.
Federal officials have gone to great lengths to put out the word that the single anthrax strain believed to have been mailed to media and government targets is not the deadliest type of Bacillus anthracis. Only one person has died so far.
"In general, the message is we are not experiencing a national outbreak of anthrax," says Dr. Julie Gerberding, acting deputy director for infectious diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"Most people have nothing to be concerned about," Dr. Gerberding says in an effort to alert the public at the cusp of the flu season to the similarity of initial symptoms of anthrax and flu. "We don't want to confuse those symptoms." she says.
"Worst-case scenario is that this is a disease that, if you get it, is treatable," New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani says.
CDC Director Jeffrey P. Koplan and Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson last week led a 90-minute broadcast advising doctors, nurses, and other health care workers via Internet, closed-circuit TV and telephone conference call on how to recognize symptoms and treat people who come within what Dr. Gerberding called "the breathing zone" for anthrax spores.
"There are a lot of people with a lot of anxiety. That's why it is important for us to get the information and get it out to them quickly," said Sen. William H. Frist, Tennessee Republican and a practicing physician, who was flanked by Deputy Surgeon General Kenneth Moritsugu.
A January JAMA article noted that "physicians in this country have never seen a single case of bioterrorism." It quoted Dr. Robert Knouss, director of the Office of Emergency Preparedness at the HHS, as estimating anthrax poisoning of Washington's water supply could poison 250,000 people within a week "in a city with 3,000 hospital beds."
That is almost optimistic compared with some scenarios for using a biological weapon first released during World War I, when German saboteurs fed anthrax-laced sugar cubes to U.S. Army horses being shipped to Europe.
Last year, writer Corey Powell gave anthrax poisoning a key spot in an article in Discover magazine titled "Twenty ways the world could end suddenly." And CBS "60 Minutes" executive Don Hewitt was quoted in a collection of millennium predictions that people will live to be 120 "if they don't die first from some madman's stockpile of anthrax or nerve gas."
During Operation Desert Storm, Iraq loaded anthrax spores into at least two Scud missiles and 50 of its 400-pound bombs, Iraqi officials told U.N. officials.
Defense Department officials have been particularly aggressive in portraying the capabilities of anthrax, particularly while arguing for the need to vaccinate all U.S. troops against it, as spokesman Kenneth H. Bacon did in a 1997 briefing.
"If you've been exposed and you've inhaled anthrax in your system, you've got a short window where you've got to take some medical action in order to enhance your survival chances," Mr. Bacon said. "A kilogram of anthrax has literally millions and millions of potential deaths in it."

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide