- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 25, 2001

A massive nationwide distribution of the anthrax antibiotic Cipro would be a mistake at this time, warned Dr. Ivan C. A. Walks, director of the D.C. Department of Health.
Dr. Walks, speaking yesterday at a meeting of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, said Cipro is a powerful drug with potentially hazardous even deadly side effects.
"We need to be clear that Cipro is not aspirin or some over-the-counter remedy. It is a strong medication, potentially harmful and should be used with discretion," Dr. Walks said.
D.C. health officials yesterday gave away more than 5,000 bags of Cipro to postal workers, media employees and other persons concerned about possible exposure to anthrax spores at tional Airport, in the city's Brentwood mail-processing facility or any of the city's post offices.
Dr. Walks said anyone taking the antibiotic needs to be aware of the risks.
On Tuesday night at D.C. General Hospital, according to Dr. Walks, a postal worker taking the drug had an almost instantaneous allergic reaction: His heart rate jumped and he began suffocating when swelling blocked his breathing passageways.
"If we had not been monitoring him if he took the drug at home this man would have died," Dr. Walks said.
Cipro is an antibiotic manufactured by the German drug giant Bayer AG. Cipro had been used mostly to treat respiratory- and urinary-tract infections. It is also used against strong bacterial illnesses like salmonella and E. coli.
The drug's side effects can include stomach pains, lack of appetite, nausea, vomiting and occasional diarrhea. Some people suffer from headaches and dizziness.
Cipro stops anthrax from reproducing and is absorbed quickly into the bloodstream, but it must be taken for 60 days to be effective. The bags handed out by the District contained a 10-day supply each.
Medical experts warn that unnecessary use of Cipro could lead to increased resistance to the drug by the anthrax bacteria.
Dr. Walks said that the postal workers, media employees and others who have been given the short-term supplies of Cipro should talk to their personal physicians before taking a dose. He also recommended that people taking the drug for the first time should do so in the presence of a doctor or in a hospital, especially if they are on another type of medication.
Dr. Walks and 20 other metropolitan area officials met yesterday with Duncan Campbell, a representative from the new federal Cabinet-level Office of Homeland Security.
Mr. Campbell is the department's associate director for intergovernmental affairs and one of 10 staffers.
"I am here to listen and to learn, so I can report back to Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge on what we need to concentrate on in this region," Mr. Duncan said.
Mr. Ridge, the former governor of Pennsylvania, was appointed the first homeland security chief Oct. 8 by President Bush.
D.C. Council member Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican, who serves as the chairman of the Council of Governments, will also head the group's emergency-preparedness task force.
Also on the task force are John Mason, mayor of Fairfax City and chairman of the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board; M. H. Jim Estepp, Prince George's County Council member; D.C. Council member Adrian Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat; Robert Nelson, president of the D.C. Hospital Association; Mary Hill, vice chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors; and Rockville Council member Robert Dorsey, who has already been charged with finding solutions to the communications problems that plagued emergency-crew response efforts on Sept. 11.
"Mr. Dorsey has the most difficult job of all: finding new ways for us to keep in contact with each other, since cell phones and messaging systems were overloaded and, in many cases, ineffective," Mr. Mason said.
The task force plans to have a first draft of a new emergency-preparedness plan ready by Nov. 14.

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