Doctor Prescribes Antibiotics for Defense Against Bioterrorism
Amid new fears of potential attacks against the United States with biological or chemical weapons, an Ohio physician yesterday began offering patients a prescription for antibiotics that patients could take in the event of an anthrax attack, the Akron Beacon Journal reports. Dr. A. Hugh McLaughlin said that patients should take an antibiotic, such as Cipro or Levaquin, within four hours of exposure to anthrax and continue taking it for at least 10 days. The drugs cost about $100 for a 10-day supply. "What you have to do is take it as soon as the radio announces there has been an anthrax attack, and you will live," McLaughlin said, adding, "Wouldn't it be smart to have one in your purse, your wallet, and have it at home to save your life?" However, Dr. Marguerite Erme, disease control medical officer for the Akron Health Department, said that patients must take antibiotics for four weeks after exposure to anthrax. She also warned that overuse of the drugs could lead to antibiotic resistance (Downing et al., Akron Beacon Journal, 9/19). The World Health Organization said earlier this month that overuse of antibiotics may lead to "dangerous levels" of antibiotic resistance among humans, warning that some antibiotics used to treat tuberculosis and malaria have "become practically useless." In May, several lawmakers, including Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), introduced a bill (HR 1771) that would provide funding to HHS and the CDC for an "action plan" to help reduce antibiotic resistance in the United States. (California Healthline, 5/10). According to McLaughlin, antibiotics "could be a matter of life and death" in an anthrax attack, and he "wants his patients to be armed and ready."
An attack with biological or chemical weapons could infect tens of thousands of Americans and trigger "fatal outbreaks" of up to 30 diseases, including anthrax, smallpox, plague and botulism. Local health care professionals, hospitals and emergency teams represent the "main defense" against bioterrorism in the United States, but according to the American Journal of Public Health, most U.S. hospitals and local agencies "are poorly equipped to deal with chemical or biological weapons." At the federal level, the CDC has a 100-member anti-bioterrorism unit. In addition, the National Disaster Medical System has 44 teams, which include 7,000 medical professionals nationwide. The federal government also has four medical response teams trained to identify biochemical attacks, decontaminate victims, provide medical care and remove victims from the area and has stockpiled a number of vaccines for last several years in "secret regional warehouses" (Akron Beacon Journal, 9/19).