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Wednesday, May 12, 1999
The News Journal

REPORT: Doctors Need Anthrax Training

Associated Press

Baltimore-Doctors need training on the symptoms of anthrax so they don't think an infected person just had a bad flu, according to scientists studying the possibility of a terrorist anthrax attack.

In a report being published in today's Journal of the American Medical Association, the Working Group on Civilian Biodefense says an anthrax attack could happen, and larger amounts of the vaccine need to be at the ready.

Anthrax is colorles, odorless, inexpensive to make and easy to transport.

The group cited a 1993 government report that said it would take only about 20 pounds of anthrax to kill 3 million people, the death toll equal or more than what could result from a hydrogen bomb.

The possiblity of a terrorist attack using bioweapons would be especially difficult to predict, detect, or prevent, and thus it is among the most feared terrorist scenarios," the report says.

In an attack, nearly half of those infected would die within 24 to 48 hours, probably well before doctors knew what was going on, the report says. Because anthrax infections can be controlled with antibiotics if administered early, doctors and radiologists need to know what to look for, the report says. Shortness of breath, an early sign of infection, could be mistaken for pneumonia. Other early symptoms include fever, cough, headache, vomiting, and chills, which could be mistaken for flu.

"The trick here is to identify as quickly as possible and recommend antibiotic treatment of all those who might have been exposed...and treat them for two months, which is a huge task," said Dr. D.A. Henderson, co-author of the report and director of the Center for Civilian Biodefense Studies at John Hopkins University.

The doctors found that anthrax remains deadly far longer than previously understood. It was believed that infection would occur within six days of exposure. But the group found the danger period lasts up to 46 days.

 

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