Anthrax Victims Suffering Long After Attacks
2001 Anthrax Attacks Have Lasting Physical, Psychological Impact
WebMD News Archive
April 27, 2004 -- The legacy of the 2001 anthrax attacks lives
on in the minds of millions. But for a small group of Americans who survived
exposure to the deadly bacteria, the effects of the bioterrorist attacks also
continue to plague their bodies.
A new study shows 15 people infected with anthrax during the
attacks continue to report significant health problems, psychological distress,
and trouble readjusting to life at least a year after the terrorist attacks
involving the U.S. Postal Service in the fall of 2001.
Researchers found that more than half of the victims had not
returned to work more than a year after the attacks, all were under psychiatric
care, and most reported symptoms ranging from chronic cough, fatigue, and
memory problems to depression, anxiety, and hostility.
The findings appear in the April 28 issue of The Journal of
the American Medical Association.
First Look at Long-Term Effects of Bioterrorism
Researcher Dori Reissman, MD, MPH, senior advisor for emergency
preparedness and mental health at the CDC, says the study is the first to look
at the long-term effects of bioterrorism-related anthrax infection and suggests
that the psychological impact of the exposure may be as significant as the
physical effects of the disease.
The study involved 15 of the 16 adult anthrax survivors from
September to December 2002, approximately one year after they were infected as
a result of the bioterrorist attacks. Six survivors had the more serious
inhalational anthrax caused by inhaling the anthrax spores, and 11 had
cutaneous anthrax, caused by skin contact with the anthrax bacteria.
The survivors were interviewed about their health complaints
and completed two standardized questionnaires about their psychological
symptoms and health-related quality of life. Researchers also reviewed
available medical records to check for evidence of some of the most commonly
reported health problems.
The results showed that the anthrax survivors reported moderate
to severe symptoms affecting many body systems. Eight of the survivors had not
returned to work since their infection.
The most commonly reported health complaints included:
- Chronic cough
Joint swelling and pain
The most frequently cited symptoms of psychological distress
The researchers noted that medical tests often could not
pinpoint the cause of their complaints.
For example, eight survivors reported moderate to severe joint
problems, decreased physical functioning, and prolonged work absence. But 11
diagnostic tests, including X-rays and lab tests, performed on six of these
patients showed no signs of immune or inflammatory disorders or other common
medical explanations for these symptoms.
Reissman says those findings suggest that posttraumatic stress
disorder (PTSD) may be responsible for some of the physical as well as
"Since we were not able to link from a causal point of view
the ongoing health problems with the anthrax infection or the toxins released
by the bacteria, we're left with the traumatic situation," says