Harvard study questions citizens' preparedness for anthrax attack

A recent study by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health found that 89 percent of Americans, in the event of a significant anthrax bioattack, would follow public health recommendations in obtaining antibiotics.

The study also revealed, however, that 39 percent of those who would receive those antibiotics would hold on to them rather than take them, putting those citizens at greater risk of serious illness.

The national poll, which is aimed at aiding planning efforts for public health responses to bioterrorism attacks, also revealed that 21 percent of Americans are "not at all familiar" with the term "inhalation anthrax" and 25 percent believed that inhaled anthrax is contagious.

The poll used both a national sample and a sample of people living in areas that have experienced an anthrax attack - Washington, DC; Trenton/Mercer County, N.J.; and New York City.

“Publicizing key information – such as where to get antibiotics and that inhalation anthrax is not contagious – would be vital to helping people protect themselves effectively in the case of a significant attack,” professor Robert Blendon, director of the Harvard Opinion Research Program and an expert in understanding the public response to emergencies that involve health threats, said. “As these results show, clear communication with the public, in the context of what could be a frightening and catastrophic event, should be a critical priority.”