Anthrax Victims Suffering Long After Attacks
2001 Anthrax Attacks Have Lasting Physical, Psychological Impact
WebMD News Archive
Bioterrorist Attacks Cause More Than Disease continued...
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."
Reissman says the findings suggest that the psychological
impact of the bioterrorist attacks may deserve more attention from health care
providers rather than just the immediate physical effects.
"In the follow-up of these kinds of events," says
Reissman, "It's very, very important for us to be including the functional,
psychological, and behavioral response to them as a standard practice."
But Reissman says the study also suggests there is something
that health care providers can do to lessen the impact of bioterrorist attacks.
Potential interventions may include medications for specific PTSD-related
symptoms as well as psychotherapy.
"There is a lot of good hope in terms of intervening with
these individuals and returning them to a good quality of life," says