Twin Cities begin testing USP delivery of anthrax antibiotics

Officials with the U.S. Postal Service in Minneapolis and St. Paul say they  are now ready to deliver antibiotics to some residents in the event of a bioattack.

The program, which has been in the making for several years, has trained approximately 400 postal workers in Minneapolis to deliver antibiotics to treat anthrax.

Peter Nowacki, a USPS spokesman in Minneapolis, said he was not sure what percentage of the city will actually be served by the program yet. Nowacki told CIDRAP News that a USA Today report, which estimated the program could reach 25 percent of the population, may be off and that the source of that information was unclear.

“For the areas that we have recruited people, yes, we're ready to go,” Nowacki told CIDRAP News. “But it's not the entire 551 and 554 zip [code] area, as it will be at some point. We'd have to communicate which zips would be covered. People in other zip codes would be directed to mass-dispensing sites.”

Nowacki said the 400 volunteers recruited to date make up around 60 percent of those who were invited to participate. In addition to letter carriers, Nowacki said, the volunteers will also include supervisors and members of the district emergency management team.

Volunteers were screened by the Medical Reserve Corps for any health concerns. In particular, Nowacki said, they were screened for any contraindication to taking doxycycline, the prophylactic antibiotic the carriers would take to protect them from possible exposures while delivering antibiotics. The antibiotic will also be provided for the carriers' families.

The carriers also were fit-tested for N-95 respirators to protect them from airborne pathogens, according to the report.

A presidential mandate declared last year called on the federal government to develop a USPS model that could be used in U.S. cities. Since that time, the Minneapolis-St. Paul model has become the cornerstone that other cities will build off.

Ann Knebel, deputy director for preparedness planning for the U.S. Department of Health, told CIDRAP News that Seattle, Philadelphia, Boston and Louisville are also working on similar plans.