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Bioterror Protection: Debunking the Myths

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Oct. 12, 2001 -- A tiny little spore with the jarring name of anthrax is dominating the airwaves because of the damage it has done -- and can still do. The obvious question is: what can you do to protect yourself from anthrax and other forms of bioterrorism? Should you stockpile antibiotics and protective gear? Or is that too drastic?

Luciana Borio, MD, of the Johns Hopkins Center for Civilian Biodefense, gives her advice on what you should and should not do.

Q: The antibiotic Cipro (ciprofloxacin) has been noted as a defense against anthrax. Some have also said it would be useless. What is your opinion on it, and is it something we should consider getting our hands on?

Borio responds: We know that ciprofloxacin, which is also known by its brand name Cipro, is an effective antibiotic in that it prevents the progression of inhaled anthrax for people who have been exposed to the type of bacteria.

Because the majority of people would die of anthrax without treatment, the government or the CDC in particular, has built a national pharmaceutical stockpile that contains large quantities of medical equipment as well as antibiotics such as ciprofloxacin. In the event of an attack, it is anticipated they would distribute the antibiotic to those who have been exposed. They have the ability to move their materials within 12 hours to any place in the U.S.

Therefore, we do not recommend private citizens stockpile their own antibiotics.

Q: Some people are suggesting stockpiling tetracycline and doxycycline. What would they do to protect me from a biological threat?

Borio responds: Again, if given within a timely fashion, these antibiotics are useful in preventing the development of the disease for which an individual may have been exposed. However, exposed means during an attack.

Anthrax is not contagious -- that means it does not pass from one person to another. So there is no reason for people to take antibiotics out of fear of contracting the disease. It is not recommended to take these antibiotics continually -- that could be dangerous and could lead to development of resistance, and they are expensive. So the only role for them is to be administered if somebody is known to have been exposed to anthrax during a biological release.

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