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Biologist Says Anthrax
So far the attacks have been aimed at the media and elected officials in Washington. Postal workers who handled letters containing anthrax were also affected.
The Associated Press reported Wednesday that so far there are three known deaths due to inhalation anthrax nationwide. At least three others are hospitalized with the inhalation form of the disease, and six have been diagnosed with the less dangerous skin form of the disease.
Moors said that an FBI official has indicated that more than 2,500 potential cases have been investigated. The most widespread affect is the fear that these attacks have created, she said.
"In many places individuals are responding without real evidence of exposure, frequently tying up health services," said Moors. "For this reason, it is important that people familiarize themselves with the symptoms of anthrax, as well as the potential dangers."
Moors believes it is important that U. S. citizens heed President Bush's advice to "be cautious about letters that come from somebody you may not know, letters that look suspicious," and that new mail handling procedures be implemented.
Moors was a research assistant at the Office of International Criminal Justice in Chicago, and assisted in research on weapons of mass destruction involving chemical and biological threats.
Anthrax, or bacillus anthracis, is a bacteria found naturally in the tissues of dead animals and is not easily spread among humans. It is most commonly found in agricultural regions, in mammals such as cattle, sheep and goats. The disease itself is not contagious in humans, Moors said, and usually humans infected with anthrax have been exposed to infected animals or their products through their occupations.
More than 95 percent of anthrax cases are skin infections. However, if spores get into the lungs, they can cause the much rarer but more deadly inhalation version of the disease.
Symptoms of skin exposure begin with a swollen area on the skin similar to an insect bite, commonly accompanied by a fever, swollen glands, and headache. Over several days, a black ulcer forms at the center. If inhaled into the lungs, the body's immune system will respond by destroying some anthrax spores, but carrying others to the lymph nodes in the chest.
The spores will then germinate, multiply and begin infecting chest tissue. Toxins produced can enter the bloodstream and cause hemorrhaging, fluid collection and tissue decay.
Anthrax is diagnosed in people by isolating the germ from the blood or skin lesion or by measuring specific antibodies in the blood of persons with suspected cases. Tests are often done by swabbing the nasal passage to look for spores to rule out the possibility a person could develop the inhalation form of the disease.
Moors said that while terrorist Osama bin Laden's network is suspected in the anthrax cases, Iraq or another hostile country may have supplied the powder, because it is difficult to produce.
The anthrax scares have created a demand for the antibiotic Cipro, and some people have even bought gas masks, although their effectiveness is questionable. The scare has also spread across the world since the first case was reported in the United States.
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