What can be done to prevent anthrax?
Most people will never be exposed to anthrax in their lifetime. In North America, the majority of anthrax exposures have been reported in the United States. Recently, these are mostly related to acts of terrorism. These terrorist acts have been primarily related to letters sent through the mail.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States recommends the following steps for handling suspicious packages or envelopes:
- Do not shake or empty the contents of any suspicious package or envelope.
- Do not carry the package or envelope, show it to others or allow others to examine it.
- Put the package or envelope down on a stable surface; do not sniff, touch, taste, or look closely at it or at any contents that may have spilled.
- Alert others in the area about the suspicious package or envelope. Leave the area, close any doors, and take actions to prevent others from entering the area. If possible, shut off the ventilation system.
- WASH hands with soap and water to prevent spreading potentially infectious material to face or skin. Seek additional instructions for exposed or potentially exposed persons.
- If at work, notify a supervisor, a security officer, or a law enforcement official. If at home, contact the local law enforcement agency.
- If possible, create a list of persons who were in the room or area when this suspicious letter or package was recognized and a list of persons who also may have handled this package or letter. Give this list to the local public health authorities and law enforcement officials.
Gas masks or respirators are not very effective once an exposure has taken place. In fact, improper use of gas masks and respirators has resulted in serious injury and death.
Commercially available testing kits for anthrax are available but should not be relied upon to test for anthrax. Testing for anthrax is only reliable when directed from a qualified medical investigator or public health investigation.
A vaccine has been developed for anthrax, but it is currently only recommended
for high-risk populations and is not available to the general public. The vaccine
is not 100% effective and has to be taken many times over 18 months for it to
For additional information on anthrax, visit http://www.cdc.gov/.
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