|Alertness Fights Off Anthrax Scare |
Alertness Fights Off Anthrax Scare
By Staff Sgt. Marcia Triggs, Army News Service.
Washington D.C. -- (ANS), October 23, 2001 -- Mysterious letters exposing people to anthrax have stirred paranoia in the nation, but officials warn soldiers that if they come into contact with a suspicious parcel to remain calm and notify law enforcement.
Any suspicious letters should be placed in a plastic bag or covered with a towel or newspaper, said the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Those who come in contact with suspicious letters, especially ones containing powder or white granules, should immediately wash their hands with soap and water and call security, CDC said.
Instructions on how to limit the spread of anthrax are being sent to every household in America, every rental Post Office box and all Army Post Office and Fleet Post Office addresses by the United Sates Postal Service.
The post cards list what constitutes a suspicious parcel and what should be done with the mail. Letters that are to be considered suspicious are handwritten envelopes with no return or an unknown address, like the ones sent to Tom Brokaw, an internationally known journalist and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle.
Other tips in detecting mail that could potentially be traced with anthrax are envelopes that are lopsided or lumpy, have excess postage or are labeled "restrictive" or "confidential." The post master general says the best defense against contracting the disease is not to handle suspected contaminated mail.
However, the risks of being exposed to anthrax are extremely low, CDC officials said.
Military personnel who have received the vaccine, which is a series of six shots over a period of 18 months with annual booster shots, are free from contracting the disease, said Chuck Dasey, the public affairs officer at the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command, Fort Detrick, Md.
"The vaccine is safe and effective in preventing anthrax," Dasey said. "No one knows when soldiers are fully protected from the disease during that 18-month period, so it's safer to say that protection doesn't start until the end of that period."
The anthrax vaccine in only available to people in the military because they are more likely to come into contact with anthrax in other parts of the world, according to an anthrax fact sheet.
There are a number of antibiotics to prevent someone from getting the disease once exposed, CDC said. Just because someone is exposed to the anthrax spores doesn't mean that they will contract one of the three anthrax diseases, CDC said.
One type of anthrax is inhalation, which is caused by inhaling anthrax spores. It is the most deadly of the three. The symptoms for inhalation are similar to flu-like symptoms, according to an anthrax fact sheet. The symptoms are fever, cough and mild chest discomfort followed by severe difficulty breathing.
The other two types of anthrax are cutaneous and gastrointestinal. Cutaneous is a skin infection that resembles a brown recluse spider bite, CDC said. A blackish-brown scab forms in the center area. It's painless and can be accompanied by a fever, CDC said. Eating anthrax-contaminated meat causes gastrointestinal anthrax. The symptoms include nausea, loss of appetite, fever, followed by abdominal pain, vomiting of blood, and severe diarrhea
"Anthrax is not contagious," Dasey said. "The only way someone is going to get infected and sick from anthrax is if it touches his skin, enters his lungs or is digested in his stomach."
There are two ways individuals are tested for exposure to anthrax. A nasal swab test indicates if anthrax has been inhaled, Dasey said, and a blood test will show if antibodies exist in the blood system. When the body is exposed to infectious material it responds by producing antibodies, he said.
Nationally there have been five confirmed cases of inhalation anthrax, leading to three deaths. There have been six cases of cutaneous anthrax, 32 individuals have been exposed to anthrax, and thousands are being tested.