Anthrax treatments' cost effectiveness shown in Stanford study

STANFORD, Calif. - Anthrax first became a household name for many Americans in September 2001 when 22 cases of bioterrorism-related anthrax, including five deaths, were identified on the East Coast. Although the incidents were relatively isolated, they raised an important question: how should the health-care system respond to a bioterrorist anthrax attack?

Nearly four years later, researchers may be closer to an answer. A study from the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System, Stanford University School of Medicine and University of Toronto has found that the timely use of both antibiotics and vaccination is the most cost-effective way to treat people potentially exposed to anthrax.

"Our findings make clear that combination therapy with antibiotics and vaccination is better then either treatment alone," said Douglas Owens, MD, MS, senior investigator at the VA-Palo Alto and associate professor of medicine at Stanford's Center for Primary Care and Outcomes Research and the Center for Health Policy in the Stanford Institute for International Studies. "And the best strategy is actually the least expensive."

Owens is the senior author of the paper in the April 19 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine. As he and his co-authors note, their findings highlight "the critical need for distribution systems that can provide prophylaxis and vaccination rapidly for hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of exposed people."

Anthrax is an acute infectious disease caused by the spore-forming bacterium Bacillus anthracis. Anthrax spores can be used as a bioterrorist weapon, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified anthrax as one of the few biological agents capable of crippling a developed region through death and disease.

"Anthrax has been weaponized; it's lethal and it's available," said Owens. "As we point out in our paper, a serious anthrax attack could be catastrophic."


Contact: Michelle Brandt
Stanford University Medical Center

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