On the second anniversary of the use of anthrax as a bioweapon in the US, physicians and scientists associated with the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) today alerted government officials and the public that the risks associated with another anthrax attack should not be underestimated.
ACSH scientists noted with concern that the hypothetical threat of a smallpox attack has overshadowed the threat of anthrax, even though we have already experienced a domestic terrorist attack with anthrax.
"Anthrax, in many respects, is an ideal bioweapon," stated ACSH President Dr. Elizabeth Whelan. "It lends itself to aerosolization; its spores can be modified to an ideal size for inhalation and resultant widespread dissemination via the lungs, lymph nodes and bloodstream; and the spores resist decontamination and may persist in the environment for long periods of time. Further, the effective dispersion of a large quantity of anthrax spores could have a devastating effect on a concentrated urban population. As we saw with the mailing of several anthrax-laced letters in October 2001, even a small amount of anthrax can cause fatal illness and spread panic out of proportion to the actual danger."
"Much has been made of the threat to public health posed by the potential use of smallpox as a biological weapon," Dr. Whelan continues. "This has been the main thrust of our nation's biodefense preparations over the course of the last 18 months, despite the fact that the last case of naturally-occurring smallpox was in 1977 and we do not know for certain that any nation or terrorist group has weaponized smallpox. Our new national policy now includes smallpox vaccinations for the military and some medical professionals and first responders. However, while some concern is warranted, there is the risk that the emphasis on smallpox could indeed overshadow the dangers posed by other potential bioterror weapons, particularly anthrax."
Dr. Gilbert Ross, ACSH's Medical Director, says the organization's new anthrax report puts the risks in proper perspective. "This report is an extremely thorough and valuable addition to the literature on bioterrorism preparedness. Another anthrax assault is a very real possibility we seem to have forgotten how easily the infection was introduced and spread in 2001. The public is apathetic now, believing that a little cipro will save them. But this is not the case before we can start using such a drug, many thousands may be sickened and die." He continued, "I have been concerned since that autumn as to why more efforts have not been undertaken to assure our civilian population that stores of anthrax vaccine are readily available, while our overseas forces have all been vaccinated with this safe and effective vaccine. I hope it doesn't take another, much more damaging anthrax attack to get our federal public health officials to take this threat more seriously."
These findings were published in a new ACSH report, ANTHRAX: What You Need to Know
. In addition, the report explains the biological characteristics of the agent, the various forms of the disease, methods of treatment, and the available vaccine. It also provides answers to many practical questions regarding what to do in the event of an anthrax attack and which concerns about anthrax are real, as opposed to hypothetical.