Anthrax Victims Suffering Long After Attacks
2001 Anthrax Attacks Have Lasting Physical, Psychological Impact
WebMD News Archive
First Look at Long-Term Effects of Bioterrorism continued...
Luciana Borio, MD, senior fellow at the Center for Biosecurity
at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, says it's not unusual for PTSD
in the wake of a terrorist event to cause a variety of physical symptoms, the
cause of which cannot always be determined through conventional medical
"The way people perceive physical symptoms sometimes is
difficult to measure and may be due to psychosocial distress," Borio tells
WebMD. "These symptoms seem more consistent with PTSD -- not because
they're not there, but because we can't measure it."
As further evidence that the symptoms may have a psychological
basis, the study showed that the severity of the complaints among the victims
was nearly the same between the inhalational and cutaneous anthrax survivors
except in the areas of physical and social functioning. In those measures,
inhalational anthrax survivors tended to suffer more due to the severity of
Bioterrorist Attacks Cause More Than Disease
To put their results into context, researchers compared their
findings to studies on long-term survivors of other infectious diseases and
persons with chronic health conditions because there is so little information
on the long-term effects of anthrax.
In comparison, anthrax survivors had a harder time adjusting to
life after infection and fared far worse than persons with chronic illness on
most measures, such as physical functioning, bodily pain, and mental
Borio says she's not surprised that the anthrax survivors
report feeling distressed. While working at the National Institutes of Health,
she published a detailed account of the medical treatment of two Washington,
D.C. postal workers who eventually died from inhalational anthrax.
She says not only is exposure to a bioterrorist attack
traumatic, but the aggressive measures required to treat anthrax may also be
traumatic. Treatment of the cutaneous or skin form of anthrax usually involves
taking powerful antibiotics to kill and prevent further spread of the
But once the bacteria has spread to the lungs, as in the
inhaled form of anthrax, infected patients may require assistance to breathe
and repeated drainage of fluid in the lungs, which Borio says is not a painless
"The [inhaled form of the] disease is much scarier because
it is a systemic disease," Borio tells WebMD. "People may feel that
they have survived it, and they were not supposed to have survived because
historically the death rates were so high, and they all required very
aggressive medical care."
In addition to the mental stress most Americans feel in the
wake of the bioterrorist attacks of 2001, Borio says anthrax survivors must
deal with a much more personal threat.
"The stress of living under the threat of terrorism may
play a part because it is not removed once you get better," says Borio.
"What made you sick back then can come back again and make you sick again.
That ought to be stressful."