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Killer Strain: Anthrax

Categories: Anthrax

Killer Strain: Anthrax - blog banner
The possibility of a terrorist attack is a scary thought and a very real danger. Terrorists could attack the American public in many different ways, including a bomb or by releasing a chemical, radiological, or biological agent. A biological attack, or bioterrorism, is the intentional release of viruses, bacteria, or other germs to cause illness or death in people or animals. Anthrax is the most likely agent to be used in a biological attack. It only takes a small amount to infect a large number of people. It is inexpensively grown from just a few spores and can be engineered to be drug resistant, which means it’s more difficult to treat with antibiotics.

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So what exactly is anthrax?

It’s a naturally occurring bacteria in soil that can be transferred from infected animals to humans, usually by handling animal products, like hides, or eating under -cooked meat. Anthrax can also infect humans by breathing in spores that have been engineered as a weapon. In 2001, anthrax spores were mailed to news reporters and U.S. Senators. These attacks involved letters which held just one gram of powdered spores , about the amount in a sugar packet; 22 people were infected and five people died.

People walking on a busy city streetIn comparison, an attack that used two kilograms of anthrax, about the size of a five pound bag of sugar, could infect 100,000 people or more. Scientists have developed models of what an anthrax attack might look like. Anthrax sprayed from a plane  or truck onto a  city  is a likely scenario. People might not see, smell, or hear the anthrax being released. This type of attack would lead to inhalation anthrax, the most severe form of the disease, which starts with fever and other flu-like symptoms. Symptoms usually appear one to 42 days after inhaling the spores. Once there are symptoms, it may be too late to treat with antibiotics.

Are We Prepared?

People handing out medicineAll of this sounds frightening, but CDC and other federal agencies,  are working with state and local health departments, are taking steps to prepare the  nation for a potential attack. CDC helps manage a program called BioSense, that detects potential bioterrorism releases, including anthrax. BioSense and other local systems help ensure that authorities are aware of an attack and can get medicine to those exposed as soon as the agent has been identified. Medicine for a bioterrorism response is stored in the Strategic National Stockpile. If a terrorist attack occurred, CDC would distribute antibiotics from the stockpile  to state and local health departments who would dispense it to affected communities.

Here at CDC we conduct emergency preparedness exercises to help us plan, prepare, and practice what to do in the event of an attack. Exercises may include distributing medical supplies or evaluating a laboratory’s ability to collect and test samples. Other exercises involve subject matter experts who work through an emergency scenario from start to finish, determining all the steps various agencies need to take. We also learn from real emergencies in our communities, such as the 2009 H1N1 pandemic. While the threat of a terrorist attack is frightening, it’s important to remember that CDC and other agencies are taking steps to protect our communities. We have medicine and trained staff ready to act. 

You can learn more about anthrax at: emergency.cdc.gov/agent/anthrax

Public Comments

Comments listed below are posted by individuals not associated with CDC, unless otherwise stated. These comments do not represent the official views of CDC, and CDC does not guarantee that any information posted by individuals on this blog is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. Read more about our comment policy ».

  1. June 10, 2011 at 10:39 pm ET  -   Curtis Reed

    I don’t think “bio” will play a big part in how we are attacked. It is too hard to control.

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  2. June 12, 2011 at 8:55 pm ET  -   Margaret Head

    The Powdersafe contaminated mail isolation system isolates and controls this risk in the workplace. Any suspicious mail can be opened in the sealed unit and examined. If a suspicious powder is found the whole unit can be removed, limiting exposure of people in the mail center; and minimizing the risk of interruption to business continuity.

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  3. June 13, 2011 at 10:52 pm ET  -   Joe Condon

    Is HEPPA air filtration effective against anthrax?

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  4. June 14, 2011 at 6:26 am ET  -   Raymon Floss

    Wow. Incredibly useful information discovered here. Bookmarked. Saved me from additional googling. Too much information on anthrax already.

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  5. June 17, 2011 at 12:24 pm ET  -   Blog Administrator

    Joe,

    Thank you for reading. In response to your comment please check out this Anthrax Q&A on worker safety which includes information about HEPA filters. You can also read more about ventilation and filtration in the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s “Guidance for Protecting Building Environments From Airborne Chemical, Biological, and Radiological Attacks.”

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  6. June 30, 2011 at 6:37 pm ET  -   Guy McCardle

    I discuss the anthrax vaccine a little bit in my new piece at Skeptoid , “Five Anti-Vaccination Myths Exposed”.

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  7. August 10, 2011 at 12:50 pm ET  -   Courtney Bannister

    This is very interesting. A different angle on terrorism than I believe most people think of. I am curious how Anthrax bacteria can be mailed/powdered.

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  8. August 29, 2011 at 12:07 am ET  -   Katryn

    Curtis said: “I don’t think “bio” will play a big part in how we are attacked. It is too hard to control.” Hmmmmm, I don’t follow your line of thought Curtis as I’m not sure what you meant by saying “too hard to control?!” Terrorist that use bio/chem warfare will already have the proper equipment in place to save themselves. The info above states: “In comparison, an attack that used two kilograms of anthrax, about the size of a five pound bag of sugar, could infect 100,000 people or more.”

    I feel that bio/chem warfare could actually be the ‘attack’ of choice! It’s easy to make,conseal, distribute and a small amt goes a long way! I feel that terrorist could care less about any “hard to control” issues. They are taught that the more “infadels” that die… the greater reward for them! In a terrorist mind they are fighting a holy war and if they die during the attack….all the better because they will go straight to heaven.

    Knowledge is power and I for one am grateful for the information here. ♥

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  9. August 31, 2011 at 12:24 am ET  -   Translation Jobs

    The Powdersafe contaminated mail isolation system isolates and controls this risk in the workplace. Any suspicious mail can be opened in the sealed unit and examined. If a suspicious powder is found the whole unit can be removed, limiting exposure of people in the mail center; and minimizing the risk of interruption to business continuity.

    Link to this comment

  10. October 3, 2011 at 4:40 pm ET  -   Dave Reddick

    My group succeeded in dramatically increasing the number of people in our county who are covered by what are called “Closed Points of Dispensing,” workplaces where management has agreed to distribute life-saving medications from the SNS to employees, students and dependents quickly and efficiently, allowing the county department of health to focus on the other residents who were not covered. We improved the coverage from about 27% to nearly 70%, a significant increase, by approaching the large employers here. Only one large company declined our offer, otherwise we covered every large company and university in St. Louis county, a community with nearly one million residents. It wasn’t easy, but it was worth the effort, and we are eager to help other communities replicate our successes.

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  11. November 16, 2011 at 3:25 am ET  -   Matt

    Really like the modern appear. I loved this article. Bless you for the fantastic page

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  12. December 14, 2011 at 11:37 pm ET  -   TieseeInext

    Haha that’s rediculous. No way

    Link to this comment

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