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Panic -- The Real Enemy

By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Gary D. Vogin, MD

Oct. 18, 2001 -- An alert nation nervously watches for news of the latest anthrax attacks. How safe are we? Pretty darn safe -- so far, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"We are not experiencing a national outbreak of anthrax," the CDC's acting deputy director, Julie Gerberding, MD, tells WebMD. "The cases are limited to specific exposures. Most people have nothing to be concerned about."

There's no denying that the U.S. remains a target of terrorists. Also beyond doubt is that one of the most feared terror scenarios has come to pass -- the intentional unleashing of a deadly disease. Lost in the media furor over recent anthrax attacks is the fact that relatively few people actually have been exposed to the germ. And very few people have been infected. As of this writing, just one person -- whose case went unsuspected for weeks -- has died.

This doesn't mean there's no cause for concern. Far more deadly bioterror attacks remain possible, if unlikely. By taking sensible precautions and by acting responsibly, there's a lot you can do.

"Now it has become important for all Americans to learn a little more about anthrax -- both the [skin] and inhalation forms," Gerberding says. "The very first specific thing people should do is to pay a little more attention to things received in the mail. They should be alert for packages seeming suspicious."

To date, all recent anthrax attacks have come via contaminated letters or packages. Here's what to do if you receive a letter or package that you suspect contains anthrax or any other dangerous germs:

  • Do not shake or empty the envelope or package. Do not try to clean up any spilled powder or fluid.
  • Put the envelope or package into a plastic bag or other container to prevent the contents from leaking out. If you can't find a container, cover the envelope or package with clothing, paper, or a trash can -- and DON'T remove this cover.
  • Leave the room and close the door. Keep other people from entering the room.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water.
  • Call the local police and report the incident. If you are at work, call your building security officer and/or your supervisor.
  • Make a list of all the people who were in the room when you opened the letter or package. Give this list to the police -- and to local public health authorities.
  • Remove contaminated clothing and put it into a plastic bag that can be sealed. Give the bag of contaminated clothing to the police.
  • Shower with soap and water as soon as you can. Do not use bleach or disinfectant on your skin.
  • Do not start taking antibiotics until told to do so by your doctor or by health authorities.

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