DHS issues guidance for wide-area anthrax attack response

The Department of Homeland Security issued an updated version on Monday of its guidance for the protection of first responders during the first week after a wide-area aerosol anthrax attack.

The guidance details protective measures such as medical countermeasures, personal protective equipment and additional work practices. The document, entitled "Guidance for Protecting Responders' Health During the First Week Following a Wide-Area Aerosol Anthrax Attack," is an updated version of a document published in 2009, Government Security News reports.

Since the document's original publication, the department solicited feedback from the public, academics, political leaders, government agencies and other responders. The newest version incorporates the comments and the most recent thinking related to anthrax attacks.

In the guidance, the DHS uses a hypothetical scenario in which the anthrax attack could occur in a major U.S. city after being released by a ground-based vehicle or an airborne vehicle.

"The affected area could encompass hundreds of square miles and could potentially expose hundreds of thousands of people to spores, which, once inhaled, could cause extensive illness and death in the affected population," the guidance said, according to Government Security News.

The current recommendations call for a post-exposure prophylaxis regime to counter anthrax threats, including a 60 day course of oral antimicrobial drugs and three doses of anthrax vaccine adsorbed. While the anthrax vaccine is administered before an anthrax attack and not licensed for post-exposure use, the Food and Drug Administration could issue an emergency use authorization to administer the vaccines following an attack.

The guidance also describes the importance of distributing antimicrobial drugs immediately after an attack by using points of dispensing or a postal model, Government Security News reports.