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Homeland Security

SLUG: 5-53282 Anthrax Attack Concerns









INTRO: For days leading up to the attack on Iraq, America has been on a heightened state of alert against domestic terrorism. While the U-S government has a detailed plan to counter a bioterrorist attack involving smallpox, scientists say there is no similar strategy for anthrax, which they say poses a real danger to Americans. V-O-A's Jessica Berman reports.

TEXT: As the United States prepared to go to war with Iraq, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge assured the nation that state and local officials are mobilized and looking out for potential terrorist activity on a number of fronts, including the health of Americans.

/// RIDGE ACT ///

The Department of Health and Human Services has alerted state and local health departments, hospitals and medical care providers, to report any unusual disease or disease patterns.

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In particular, doctors are looking for signs of smallpox, a disease the World Health Organization declared eradicated in 1980. Fearing that it could be used as a bioweapon by terrorists, the Bush Administration put in place a detailed plan to treat people exposed to the infectious illness.

But there is no similar plan to give antibiotics to those who've come in contact with anthrax, according to Larry Wein (WINE), a professor of technology at Stanford University in California. Five people died after inhaling powdery, weapons-grade, anthrax spores contained in letters circulated through the U-S mail system.

The incident occurred one month after the September 11th terrorist attacks in the United States, which destroyed the World Trade Center towers in New York and badly damaged the Pentagon in Washington, D-C. The anthrax perpetrator has never been found.

Professor Wein says the risk of a terrorist attack with anthrax is real.

/// WEIN ACT ///

I think the hardest part is getting a hold of weapons-grade anthrax. In our model... you can put this in a bag. All you have to do is climb to the top of a building somewhere and drop it. So you do not need high-tech missiles and nozzle sprays and things like that.

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The lack of a detailed plan to deal with an anthrax attack in the United States prompted Professor Wein and his colleagues to develop a model looking at such an event.

In an article published in the journal "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences," Professor Wein and colleagues envision the release of one-kilogram of weapons-grade anthrax, from a building 91-meters tall, in a large U-S city of almost 11-million people, not unlike New York City.

In their example, Professor Wein says one-and-one-half million people could become infected with the bacterium, like the first victim of the real life anthrax attack a year and a half ago.

/// WEIN ACT ///

In the 2001 attack, the first patient in Florida was correctly diagnosed by the doctor... So, the first people with symptoms in a large-scale attack would occur on the second day probably. So, we assumed that these people would be correctly diagnosed. And indeed, by 48-hours after the attack, about 13-thousand people already have symptoms. So I think the least of our worries would be to diagnose what has happened.

/// END ACT ///

But the model assumes some people would not be correctly diagnosed or would have no symptoms of inhalation anthrax, resulting in 123-thousand deaths.

The scientists estimate the number of causalities could be cut in half if antibiotics were given to residents either before an attack or within several hours after an attack.

/// WEIN ACT ///

... because once they develop symptoms, they overwhelm the medical care facilities and many of these people would die.

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Like the smallpox plan, the researchers are proposing a coordinated strategy to minimize casualties in the event of an anthrax attack. It includes distributing antibiotics to everyone in an affected region as soon as a diagnosis is made, and aggressively educating the public about sticking to the full course of treatment.

Stanford University's Larry Wein and colleagues hope publishing the article will encourage the Bush Administration to adopt a nationwide anthrax plan to protect Americans against a widespread biological assault. (SIGNED)


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