Department of Homeland Security warns of anthrax threat

Dr. Alexander Garza, the chief medical officer of the Department of Homeland Security, recently issued a warning regarding the threat posed to the U.S. by the release of anthrax.

Garza issued the warning at the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response and Communications, chaired by Gus Bilirakis (R-Florida) and ranking member Laura Richardson (D-California), according to

“The threat of an attack using a biological agent is real and requires that we remain vigilant," Garza said, according to "A wide area attack using aerosolized Bacillus anthracis, the bacteria that causes anthrax, is one of the most serious mass casualty biological threats facing the U.S."

Garza, who is also the assistant secretary for health affairs for the Department of Homeland Security, was one of several experts who testified on the state of countermeasures available to mitigate the threat of a biological attack.

“An anthrax attack could potentially encompass hundreds of square miles; expose hundreds of thousands of people, and cause illness, death, fear, societal disruption and economic damage,” Garza testified, reports. “If untreated, the disease is nearly 100 percent fatal, which means that those exposed must receive life-saving medical countermeasures as soon as possible.”

The hearing was the second part of efforts by the subcommittee to explore the strengths and weaknesses of the American countermeasure response should the nation experience large scale exposure to chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear agents from a terrorist attack.

According to Garza, anthrax continues to pose a threat, in part because an extensive systemic countermeasure response remains undeveloped.

In January 2010, the Commission on the Prevention of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism, led by former Senators Bob Graham (D-Florida) and Jim Talent, (R-Missouri), issued the U.S. government an “F” for bioweapon preparedness.

“The clock is ticking and time is running out…Our major metropolitan areas are not prepared.” Talent said, according to “When you talk privately with people in the administration, they’ll tell you we are nowhere on bioterrorism."

The recent House Hearings emphasized the additional limitations the nation faces in the face of the bioterror threat. These limitations include the multiple and overlapping federal agencies tasked with decision making, the poor state of physician education regarding the effects of bioterrorism, pediatric response needs and the lack of development of a cleanup response.