U.S. more prepared to treat anthrax attack than a decade ago

The United States is currently more prepared to treat victims of an anthrax attack than it was 10 years ago when a series of anthrax laced letters killed five people.

If an anthrax attack were to occur, government response measures call for treating those at risk with a 60 day regimen of antibiotics. For those needing long-term protection against the risk of late-germinating B-anthracis spores, it can offer a three dose series of anthrax vaccine, according to CIDRAP News.

There are enough doses of antibiotics in the civilian countermeasure stockpile to treat 60 million people for the recommended 60 days, according to a report recently issued by the WMD Terrorism Research Center, a non-profit run by a pair of former U.S. Senators.

While the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will not reveal the exact amounts of materials stored in the Strategic National Stockpile for national security reasons, it is known that there are enough doses of the 2001 anthrax vaccine available to protect several million more people.

Several companies are in the process of developing second-generation vaccines to provide increased protection at a lower cost, but their availability remains several years away.

Unlike a decade ago, the federal government maintains a supply of antitoxins, such as anthrax immune globulin and other antibody products, that can be used to treat people with infections that are too far advanced to use antibiotic therapy.

None of the antitoxins have yet to receive the blessing of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, but they can nonetheless be used under emergency authorizations. One was recently used in Minnesota on a man who contracted naturally occurring anthrax while on vacation.