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ANTHRAX AWARENESS INFORMATION

By: "©The Dolphin 2001"
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Editor's Note: Anthrax presents a health hazard to our nation. The following article provides information on the bacteria, symptoms , treatment and prevention of anthrax. One of the best ways to protect yourself from anthrax is to arm yourself with information.

Over the past few days, the law enforcement community has received numerous reports regarding suspicious packages possibly containing anthrax bacteria. The large majority of these packages have tested negative for the bacteria and are most likely hoaxes inspired by recent news coverage of anthrax exposure in New York City.

Naval Criminal Investigative Service recommends the following precautionary measures and emergency procedures should one suspect a package is contaminated with a biological agent. Much of this information may also be found on the U. S. Postal Service web site http://www.usps.com/news/2001/press/pr01_1010tips.htm.

Anthrax is a bacterial disease caused by a very stable spore that may remain viable for many years in soil and water. Anthrax normally occurs in domesticated and wild animals, including goats, sheep, cattle, horses, and deer. Anthrax is also communicable to human beings, although once infected a human is not contagious.

Anthrax can infect humans in one of three ways:
"Skin" anthrax, cutaneous anthrax may be contracted by handling contaminated hair, wool, hides, flesh, blood, or feces of infected animals, as well as manufactured products such as bone meal. Infection is introduced through scratches, abrasions, or wounds of the skin. The mildest form of anthrax infection, cutaneous anthrax symptoms include itching, rash, and possibly lesions near the site of infection. With proper treatment, skin anthrax is fatal in less than 1 percent of all cases. Approximately 95 percent of human anthrax infections are cutaneous infections, and cutaneous infections present the greatest threat to personnel handling contaminated packages.

Gastrointestinal anthrax is contracted by orally ingesting anthrax spores, usually by eating insufficiently cooked infected meat. Symptoms include cramps, diarrhea, and fever. Gastrointestinal anthrax infections are unlikely from handling contaminated packages.

Inhalation anthrax is contracted by inhaling spores directly into the lungs. Such infections normally occur among workers handling infected animal hides, wools, and furs. After an incubation period of one to seven days, the infected individual gradually develops flu-like symptoms such fever, malaise, fatigue, cough, and mild chest discomfort. This mild disease can progress rapidly to respiratory distress and shock in two to four days, followed by a range of more severe symptoms such as difficulty breathing and exhaustion.

Under natural conditions, inhaled anthrax is exceedingly rare, with only 18 cases reported in the United States in the 20th century. As witnessed by the recent death of a journalist in Florida, it may be possible to contract inhalation anthrax infections from a contaminated package. However, in most cases deliberately causing such infections would require some method of rendering the anthrax spores aerosol.

In animal testing, beginning a regimen of antibiotics one day after exposure is extremely beneficial, especially when coupled with active immunization. As noted above, inhalation anthrax is fatal if untreated. A vaccine, formerly administered to military personnel in a deployable status, is known to protect against cutaneous anthrax and is also believed to be effective against inhalation anthrax.

Suspicious parcels: this information may also be found on the U. S. Postal Service web site http://www.usps.gov/cpim/ftp/notices/not71.pdf. Some of the characteristics of a suspect package include: presence of any unusual material, especially a powder-like substance, either outside of or when opening the package.

Weaponized anthrax exhibits the consistency and fineness of talcum powder and can vary in color from white to off white or brown. Less sophisticated anthrax will probably be less consistent (lumpy) and more Granular). Mail should not be opened which exhibits restricted endorsements such as "personal" or "private," (especially when the addressee does not usually receive personal mail at the office or command); fictitious or non-existent return addresses; address is made out in distorted handwriting, with homemade labels, or cut-and-paste lettering; improper titles with name, or addressed to title only; protruding wires, aluminum foil, oil stains, or a peculiar odor;. cancellation or postmark from a different location than return address; excessive postage; unprofessional wrapping with several combinations of tape; special endorsements such as "fragile-handle with care" or "rush-do not delay."

If you suspect a package may contain a biological/chemical agent and are unable to verify the contents with the addressee or sender, immediately take the following steps: Do not open or handle the suspect package; Isolate the package and evacuate the immediate area. If you have already handled the package, isolate it by sealing it in a plastic bag. If the package has not been handled, simply evacuate the area immediately. Ensure all persons who have touched the package wash their hands thoroughly with soap and warm water. Contact base security/local police and request assistance. Prepare a list of all persons who have touched the package, including contact information. Place all items of clothing worn when in contact with the package in plastic bags and seal them. As soon as practical, shower with soap and warm water.

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