Bioterror Outbreak

By Gritt, Jennifer A. | The New American, November 19, 2001 | Go to article overview

Bioterror Outbreak


Gritt, Jennifer A., The New American


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.

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