Mail Carriers Would Deliver Anthrax Drugs
The federal government said today that in the event of an anthrax attack it would use postal carriers to deliver emergency antibiotics to households across the country.
The project, announced today by Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt, will begin with a $500,000 pilot training program in Minneapolis-St. Paul. If all goes well, the program would be expanded to other cities starting next year.
"This quick-strike capability is intended to buy time for local and State public health authorities to set up points of dispensing for further provision of antibiotics across the community," the Health and Human Services Department said in a statement.
Test runs in Seattle, Philadelphia and Boston over the past two years worked well, health officials said. Letter carriers, escorted by police officers, delivered empty pill bottles along with a flier explaining what was happening. In Philadelphia, 50 carriers reached roughly 53,000 households in eight hours, The Associated Press reports.
To gather volunteers to hand out the antibiotic doxycycline, the federal government offered to fully stock the homes of letter carriers with enough of the drug for their families in case of an outbreak.
Studies have suggested that preparing for a full-scale anthrax attack requires stockpiling and distributing both antibiotics and an anthrax vaccine.
There have been recent developments on the vaccine front. The sole supplier of the anthrax vaccine, Emergent Biosystems of Rockville, Md., today was awarded a federal contract to supply an additional 14.5 million doses, on top of the nearly 19 million the government already has ordered. And last week, the government hired Emergent and another biotech company to build the next generation of anthrax vaccine.
The advances in the anthrax plan come two months after an Army scientist based at Fort Detrick, Md., 62-year-old Bruce E. Ivins, committed suicide as FBI agents began closing in on him as their chief suspect in the 2001 anthrax attacks.
Anthrax-laden letters were sent to selected media outlets and congressional offices, killing five people and leaving 17 others ill. The attacks crippled the nation's mail service and sparked fear in another terrorist attack so soon after Sept. 11.
After the 2001 attacks, more than 10,000 people took antibiotics, including doxycycline, Bayer AG's ciprofloxacin, or Cipro, and other drugs, to prevent infection, Reuters reports.
Before 2001, only 18 cases of inhaled anthrax occurred in the United States in this century, and the last known case was in 1978, according to a 1999 summary of anthrax as a biological weapon that was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
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