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Anthrax Drug Cipro: Can Other Antibiotics Do the Job?

Federal health officials today tried to address the public clamor for Cipro--the prescription drug treatment for anthrax.

As CBS News medical correspondent Elizabeth Kaledin reports, the officials want you to know Cipro has risks as well as benefits, and Cipro is not the only antibiotic that works.

It's one of the most potent antibiotics on the market, and the only drug approved specifically to treat inhalation anthrax. That has put Cipro in the unusual position of being on the list of America's Most Wanted.

People are coveting prescriptions. Politicians exposed in the latest attack are exalting it by name.

Doctors like LA internist Dr. Samuel Fink report being harassed by patients for refusing to dole it out like candy.

Fink admits, "I've been met with hostility. They want to protect themselves, their family, the dog, other pets, and they believe anthrax is here and they have to protect everyone."

The demand for Cipro has created a crisis within a crisis for the health officials and today the FDA made a point of announcing that other antibiotics, penicillin and doxycyline, also fight anthrax. The agency plans to establish doses and new labels for the other drugs in the event of a biological attack.

The concern with Cipro is that a nation of people clamoring for one powerful drug that they don't know how or when to use is a medical minefield.

Dr. Sandra Kweder said, "In the absence of exposure it can absolutely do more harm than good."

Like any drug, taking Cipro involves risks. Side effects include nausea, abdominal pain and mental confusion. Studies in animals show it can cause abnormal cartilage development. It is not approved for children or pregnant women.

But a bigger worry is that overuse of Cipro will render it powerless to defend us in the future. Anthrax and other germs will develop resistance to one of the few antibiotics left that consistently works.

Dr. Stuart Levy, from Tufts University School of Medicine, heads up the Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics.

Levy said, "If Cipro was used intensely in a house or neighborhood it would only take a month for certain bacteria to become resistant."

If side effects and resistance don't stop the Cipro stampede perhaps price will: about $300 for a 1-month supply. A cheaper way to protect yourself is to remain calm and take your doctor's advice.

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