The Anthrax Scare
Posted January 1, 2002
Since the September 11th terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., many Americans have realized that the world in which they live has changed. These
attacks have reminded people that their freedom is not something that should be taken for granted.
Following the attacks on September 11, there have been numerous accounts of biological attacks on various figures in the media and political arenas. These attacks
involved the biological toxin, anthrax.
Anthrax is caused by a bacteria, Bacillus anthracis, which can attack the body on the skin or in the lungs if it is inhaled. Inhaled anthrax is the most dangerous
form of the disease, but is also the most rare. The bacteria produces several toxins that attack cells by attaching to receptor sites on the cell membrane. These cells can then break
down and rupture.
Symptoms of anthrax include headaches, coughing, and severe chest pains. Unlike the common cold or the flu, anthrax is not accompanied by sneezing or a running nose.
When anthrax is contracted on the skin, symptoms involve sores and a possible fever.
Doctors have several weapons against the disease. Because anthrax is caused by a bacteria, it is possible to destroy the bacteria by administering antibiotics to a
person showing symptoms. However, it is very important to take the antibiotics as early as possible before the disease can do any damage.
Scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have discovered that it is also possible to "block" the anthrax toxins from attacking other cells. If other
chemicals are administered and bind to the site on the cell membrane that is susceptible to anthrax, the bacteria is blocked.
In the case of the recent anthrax attacks, the bacteria is placed in an envelope and mailed to its target. When the letter is opened, the bacteria powder is scattered
in the air. If exposed to the skin or inhaled, a person could contract this disease.
As of the New Year, there have been eighteen accounts of anthrax infection in the United States. Five of these victims have died from the disease. Some of the victims
have been postal employees that have handled infected letters, while others were exposed to cross-contaminated letters infected with anthrax spores. There was even a case of a postal
worker who had the symptoms of anthrax, but did not test positive for the disease.
Government officials have not identified who is responsible for sending anthrax through the mail. However, there have been hoaxes in which letters containing a white
powdery substance have been sent to various media and government locations. In such cases, these people have been arrested. The government has yet to draw a clear connection between
the anthrax incidents and the terrorist network that was responsible for the attacks on September 1, 2001.
Use the Internet to learn more about anthrax and its effects. With a small group, make a presentation that explains to the rest of the class the risks of
anthrax infection and how people can protect themselves.