Anthrax threat needs aggressive government action plan, say researchers

A reasonable defense against an airborne anthrax attack requires more aggressive action by the U.S. government than now planned, says a study published the week of March 17 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The government is relying too heavily on biosensors to pinpoint an anthrax attack and not doing enough to get large quantities of drugs and medical personnel to affected areas within hours, says the team headed by Lawrence Wein of Stanford University's Graduate School of Business.

Wein, who is professor of operations, information and technology at the Business School, and his fellow researchers considered the possibility that drug intervention against anthrax could start earlier if the attack was detected by biosensors devices that sniff out anthrax spores. Although the federal government is spending many millions of dollars to develop biosensors, their use alone is insufficient and could create a false sense of security, says Wein. We would also need aggressive distribution of prophylactic antibiotics, such as Cipro, and the ability to develop a large capacity of emergency medical care for rapid deployment in affected areas. Huge numbers of extremely expensive sensors would have to be spread throughout the nation in order to be in proximity to where the spores are released and to detect them, which is unrealistic. "There is still no substitute for getting people antibiotics and medical care as fast as possible," he said.

In earlier work published by the same researchers in the Aug. 6, 2002, issue of the PNAS, they argued for speedy mass vaccinations as soon as a case of smallpox appears in a population rather than the more time-consuming practice recommended by the government of identifying individuals the victim had been in contact with, locating them and then vaccinating them.

"Our country has made great strides in the past year at preparing for a potential smallpox attack," Wein said. "Although smallpox is

Contact: Helen Chang
Stanford University

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