The ongoing reports of anthrax, both real and unfounded, have triggered a nationwide clamor for the antibiotic Cipro.
Although there are two other antibiotics approved for fighting anthrax infection--penicillin and doxycyline--Cipro is by far the most well known treatment for anthrax. But is this drug really the magic bullet people seem to think it is? And who really needs it?
As many Americans rush to stockpile the drug, pharmacists have found themselves unable to keep up with the flood of requests.
"'I want . . . I need . . . My doctor's going to call . . . Do you have it now?'--I just have not seen anything like it," says Harvey Tabachnick, a pharmacist.
The demand for Cipro is so great that Bayer, the German manufacturer of the drug, has tripled production.
Even so, some Americans have actually opted to risk crossing the Mexican border in hopes of snatching up generic brands of Cipro. Others are ordering Cipro over the Internet at exorbitant prices.
The shortages worry Dr. Allen Dozor of the Westchester Medical Center. He is concerned about the hundreds of his patients who can only treat their severe upper-respiratory conditions with Cipro.
"Cipro is an incredibly important tool for treating our patients. Their lives literally depend on it," Dr. Dozor says. "Our patients have not been able to fill their prescriptions because their pharmacies are out of it. This is, of course, a terrible problem right now."
Debra Ravettine is an example of someone who depends on Cipro for her health. At 41, she is one of the oldest people living with cystic fibrosis, a lung disease that is often fatal in childhood. She's worried because, for the moment, she can only get a 7-day supply of Cipro at a time.
"I fight every day of my life, and I want to be able to have the medication available to me so that I can continue that fight," Ravettine says.
Dr. Aaron Glatt, an infectious disease specialist at St. Vincent's Cathlolic Medical Center, believes that the public and some doctors are overreacting to the threat of anthrax.
"We have diseases that are rapidly fatal. Cutaneous anthrax is certainly not in that scheme of things," he says.
Dr. Glatt's greatest concern is that people will abuse Cipro. He also worries that anthrax and other infectious diseases may become resistant to Cipro, making it ineffective when it's really needed.
"It is incumbent upon physicians to . . . make sure they don't unnecessarily and inappropriately or injudiciously prescribe antibiotics to patients because they want them," he says.
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