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Bioterror Protection: Debunking the Myths


So the decision is complex, and the determination of when a release happens is best accomplished by public-health officials, at which time people would be given the antibiotics.

Q: These antibiotics that have been mentioned -- ciprofloxacin, tetracycline and doxycycline -- are they safe for children, pregnant women, and the elderly?

Borio responds: Under normal situations, these antibiotics are avoided in children and pregnant women. However, if that individual has been exposed to anthrax, the benefit may outweigh the risks of taking the antibiotic. These are consensus recommendations, but they have not been studied in children and pregnant women.

Q: Is the purchase of electrolytes, latex gloves, paper surgical masks, and paper gowns a wise choice? How do they protect us?

Borio responds: They would not protect people because, again, most of these agents are not contagious from person to person, and in the case of smallpox they would likely not suffice. There is very little reason to purchase these materials.

Q: Aren't the symptoms of anthrax like those of the flu or common cold? Should someone with flu symptoms go to the doctor and get tested as a precautionary measure?

Borio responds: The early symptoms of anthrax are very much like the flu; however, in the absence of a case, I don't think people with flu-like symptoms need to be concerned. Healthcare personnel are on alert so that if somebody presents with a rapidly progressive illness that is consistent with anthrax, they would make the diagnosis as quickly as possible.

Q: Can people do things to build up their immune systems now so that in the event of bioterrorism they'd have a better chance?

Borio responds: Not that I am aware of. We know that people who are chronically ill are at higher risk of acquiring infections, but I am not aware of any specific therapy that would boost one's immune system.

Q: It sounds like you can't really prepare or protect yourself.

Borio responds: I think it is wise to compare this to a terrorist attack -- there is very little we can do, and as Americans we hate that. We are the doers, you know.

It really is in the hands of our government and public health system to protect the population in the event of such a horrible event. There has been considerable anxiety, which is understandable from the events of Sept. 11, 2001, but I believe the threat itself has not increased; the perception of the threat has changed. As a citizen, I would prepare my house and family just as I would for any other natural disaster, such as have water, flashlights, and commonsense things in place.

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