Skip to content

Women's Health

Font Size

Anthrax Victims Suffering Long After Attacks

2001 Anthrax Attacks Have Lasting Physical, Psychological Impact

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 testing.

"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 their disease.

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 health.

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 infection.

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 procedure.

"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."

Today on WebMD

hands on abdomen
Test your knowledge.
womans hand on abdomen
Are you ready for baby?
birth control pills
Learn about your options.
Is it menopause or something else?
Couple with troubles
Bone density illustration
Young woman being vaccinated
woman holding hand to ear

Send yourself a link to download the app.

Loading ...

Please wait...

This feature is temporarily unavailable. Please try again later.


Now check your email account on your mobile phone to download your new app.

Blood pressure check
mother and daughter talking
intimate couple
puppy eating