Understanding Anthrax

October 21, 2001

Recent events in the U.S. have led to great public concern about anthrax. The risk of any individual in this country contracting anthrax, though, is infinitesimal. The risk is for people who have been in a place of known exposure. Even then, if treated in the first few days, exposure to anthrax is almost always curable.
The best approach in dealing with anthrax is to know more about it. It is not contagious, and it is treatable. A number of antibiotics can be used to treat it. These antibiotics are very effective in preventing a person from getting the disease once exposed.
There is no need to buy or store antibiotics – unnecessary use of antibiotics can cause side effects, prevent proper distribution and even lead to more resistant forms of bacteria. Only people who are exposed to anthrax need to take antibiotics, and health authorities should make the determination regarding exposure. Although much discussion of use of antibiotics has referred to ciprofloxacin or Cipro, many other antibiotics are effective and available.
There are three types of anthrax, largely determined by the route of entry of the anthrax into the human body. The types are cutaneous anthrax, where skin surface is exposed and a skin lesion develops; inhalation anthrax, in which particles are inhaled; and gastrointestinal anthrax, in which particles are ingested. The three types have different symptoms.
Anthrax cannot be spread from person to person. It can only develop by means of exposure to the skin, breathing it, or eating it. If you think you have been exposed, call your doctor or public health department.

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