Magazine article Drug Topics

Anthrax to Zyklon-B: A Deadly Alphabet

Magazine article Drug Topics

Anthrax to Zyklon-B: A Deadly Alphabet

Article excerpt

Anthrax has been the most notorious biological agent in the news of late, thanks to Saddam Hussein's alleged stockpiles and the recent scare in Nevada. But that's just one of many potential weapons of the biochemical terrorist:

Anthrax: Hardy spores of Bacillus anthracis can be lethal if inhaled. Symptoms mimic the flu for a day or two, then clear up-only to return a few days later as full-blown respiratory failure. A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention estimated more than 30,000 deaths per 100,000 individuals exposed in a suburban setting. The cost of postexposure treatment in the CDC scenario oral ciprofloxacin or doxycycline combined with parenteral gentamicin-was estimated at $26.2 billion. An anthrax vaccine is available, but it involves a vaccination schedule of six shots over an 18-month period, followed by annual boosters. The government has begun a $130 million plan to vaccinate more than two million members of the armed forces, but experts agree that vaccinating the general public is logistically impossible.

Bubonic plague: Infection by the Yersinia pestis bacteria is almost always fatal if left untreated and allowed to spread to the lungs. Effective vaccines exist, however, and antibiotics administered promptly after exposure greatly reduce risk of death.

Ricin: A byproduct of the humble castor bean, and 6,000 times more lethal than cyanide, ricin has no vaccine or antidote. Inhalation of even a small amount causes respiratory and circulatory failure. …

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