A few weeks ago, America worried about airplanes, tall buildings, and box cutters. Now, Americans are worried that the next terrorist attack could come in the next letter.
But bioterror expert William Patrick says the anthrax scare may be as dangerous as the disease. Dan Rather reports.
Says Patrick: "We're all scared. I have people calling me up saying, 'Should I buy a gas mask? Should I stock up on Cipro?' The answer is, 'No.'"
A half-century ago, at Fort Detrick, Maryland, Patrick and an army of US scientists began studying how diseases could be turned into weapons of war. They worked with botulism, smallpox, and anthrax.
He offers his thoughts on the current incidents: "I'm happy when the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] reports that they found spores on surfaces. Whether it's on the floor or tables or elsewhere, I'm happy because it means that this is heavy material. It's big particle size and if you've got to have anthrax in the environment, I'd rather have it on surfaces than up in the air. That could cause you some real serious problems."
Patrick says some people probably received anthrax letters without realizing it--not getting sick because of the poor quality of the anthrax and the primitive way it has been delivered.
Anthrax spores have been found in at least one postal building, and jittery workers have called for more anthrax testing to be done.
The idea that postal workers are that scared scares the business world. Charles Guy was an economist with the Postal Service for 25 years. How would it affect the economy?
"If one were to seriously disrupt mail flows, that would be just the beginning. Because then you would seriously disrupt all of the entities that use the mails. And that's every sector of the economy. If it were to continue for any extended period of time, it would be just catastrophic."
Patrick worries more about smallpox than anthrax. It is, he points out, contagious. Much of the nation is susceptible, he says.
But Patrick counsels calm. He tells Americans "to relax about all these anthrax letters that are going out. If you happen to be a recipient of a letter and you see it bulging, for Lord's sake, don't open it up. Or if you open it and you know that you've been exposed, seek immediate treatment. And youre gonna get cured. You're not gonna die."
Is he worried about the current situation? "I have good days and bad days. There's never been a weapons system that has been developed that hasnt been used at some point in time. And I'm sure that at some point in the future, biological warfare will be used on a scale that's gonna be massive. And it's gonna cause a lot of casualties. I don't think the world is at that point right now. But this is my guess. It's nothing more than my guess."
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