More than 32,000 Took Antibiotics as Precaution for Anthrax
Since the discovery of three anthrax-tainted letters, about 32,000 Florida, New Jersey, New York City and Washington, D.C., residents have taken antibiotics as a precautionary measure, the Washington Post reports. Of that number, only 5,000 took the drugs for the full, recommended 60-day cycle; most of the others were taken off the medications after officials determined that they had not been exposed to "dangerous levels" of anthrax. Federal health officials are "concerned" about the medications' side effects as well as antibiotic resistance. Neil Fishman, director of the University of Pennsylvania Health System's antimicrobial management team, said, "It's a lot of people taking antibiotics. But the risk-benefit ratio was tilted toward taking the antibiotics because these people had known exposures to anthrax" (Connolly, Washington Post, 11/9). About one-fifth of 490 Florida residents taking Cipro have developed side effects such as breathing problems; itching; and face, neck and throat swelling. Dr. Julie Gerberding, acting deputy director of the CDC's National Center for Infectious Diseases, said, "We've had no surprises. The adverse events that people are reporting in Florida are no different than what we've typically seen." Dr. William Hall, president of the American College of Physicians and the American Society of Internal Medicine, added that some of the symptoms could be related to "anthrax anxiety." He said, "Any time you influence people's thinking about their health in this way, there are going to be a number of medical complaints that may or may not be related to the drug itself. This is just normal human behavior." A study on Florida residents who are taking Cipro appears in today's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (Ornstein, Los Angeles Times, 11/9).
President Bush yesterday visited the CDC, calling the agency's workers "new heroes in America" for their efforts in the anthrax outbreaks, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. He told about 250 members of the agency's anthrax task force, "I truly believe you have saved hundreds of lives, and for that I am grateful." Bush is the first sitting president to visit the agency (McKenna, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 11/9). During his visit, Bush "expressed reservations" about inoculating all Americans against smallpox, saying, "I would be deeply concerned about a vaccination program that would cause people to lose their lives" (AP/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 11/9). The mortality rate for the current smallpox vaccine is about one in one million people. If all Americans received the vaccine, about 280 would die, with an additional 1,500 people suffering brain damage, the New York Times reports (Sanger, New York Times, 11/9). However, it is "essential" to have enough of the vaccine on hand, Bush said (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 11/9). During a speech last night before police officers, firefighters and "camouflage-clad troops" in Atlanta, Bush again praised the efforts of public health workers in the wake of the anthrax outbreak, as well as the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Bush also acknowledged that the government still does not know the source of the anthrax attacks (Allen, Washington Post, 11/9).