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Bioterror Outbreak.

The recent media frenzy over anthrax has created an atmosphere of panic as the nation tries to come to grips with this latest dilemma. Now more than ever, it is important that Americans receive valid information. Having already killed three innocent people, it is obvious that weaponized anthrax has the potential to be a deadly biological weapon, and it must be dealt with accordingly. But as recent events have shown, our public officials and investigating authorities have not done all they can to contain and eliminate this potentially devastating bacterium. In order to accomplish this, disaster-control efforts must focus on the facts of the situation. Just as no one these days advocates the construction of backyard bomb shelters for protection from nuclear attack, accurate information about weaponized anthrax will help deter public hysteria and solve the problem at hand.

The bacterial agent that causes anthrax is most commonly found in plant-eating animals such as goats, sheep, and cows. This bacterium, Bacillus anthracis, is an endospore-forming rod, and it is these endospores that have the potential for causing anthrax infections in humans. Cutaneous anthrax, a skin infection, is the most common and is not life-threatening when treated with antibiotics. It occurs when virulent spores enter a cut or an abrasion. Pulmonary or inhalation anthrax is more deadly because the flu-like symptoms usually do not begin to occur until the infection has reached a lethal stage. Pulmonary anthrax is treatable, however, if the infection is detected early enough. It is because pulmonary anthrax is highly lethal if undetected that makes anthrax such a potentially devastating biological weapon. Americans must understand, however, that of the two infections, pulmonary anthrax is harder to contract.

In order for a pulmonary anthrax infection to occur, an individual would have to inhale approximately 10,000 virulent anthrax spores five microns or less deep into their lungs (spores this size will not be visible to the naked eye). Spores larger than five microns will be caught by natural respiratory filters such as nasal hair and cilia which line the windpipe. Furthermore, the gestation period for pulmonary anthrax is anywhere from three all the way up to 60 days -- meaning not everyone exposed to a high concentration of virulent anthrax spores will suffer from a life-threatening infection at the same time. This gives health officials a window of opportunity to treat exposed individuals in time to reduce the number of fatal infections.

The fact that a particular strain of anthrax is determined to exist in a U.S. lab does not help in determining the point of origin of the anthrax that has been sent through the mail. Strains of anthrax have been continually bought and sold by labs all over the world for research purposes. The anthrax that was sent through the mail to major media targets and Capitol Hill had to have been weaponized by experts who knew what they were doing. The process of weaponizing anthrax bacteria helps ensure that spores do not loose their virulency in light of the many environmental factors that could potentially reduce the potency of the anthrax or kill it outright. Such factors include sunlight, intense heat, water, and chemical contamination. Anthrax spores must be able to survive dissemination as well. The granular anthrax that was sent through the mail -- a very primitive delivery system -- would at best cause cutaneous infections among the handlers of the envelope. Smaller anthrax spores intermixed with the powder, however, have the potential to cause pulmonary infections if enough are dispersed. Once airborne, these spores can remain potent for several years and will pose a substantial threat if continually recirculated within an enclosed area by either human activity or ventilation systems.

Since biowarfare experts should know that anthrax spores remain virulent for several decades, more emphasis needs to be put on decontaminating areas exposed to anthrax. As of now, only the office buildings on Capitol Hill have been closed down for decontamination. Why haven't the media studio and post office buildings been decontaminated? Washing everything down with bleach and/or exposing areas to high concentrations of ultraviolet radiation would effectively reduce the chance that dispersed spores will be recirculated enough to cause further infections. Failure of local disaster response teams to do this will only increase the risk for further infections.

Anthrax as a biological agent has the potential of becoming a devastating mass casualty weapon. But as recent events have shown, this weapon fortunately still has a long way to go to achieve the tragic death toll so many biowarfare alarmists claim it can. America has the necessary information and means to successfully combat this biological attack. But if we are going to truly contain and rid ourselves of this bacterial nuisance, we must do everything we can to decontaminate any and every enclosed area that was potentially exposed to these deadly spores. And panicked U.S. citizens nationwide must calm down and take the time to understand what we're facing -- for this is a battle that America can easily fight and win.
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Article Details
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Author:Gritt, Jennifer A.
Publication:The New American
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 19, 2001
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