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The Surgeon General Addresses Anthrax Cases

With the number of anthrax cases rising seemingly every day, Administration officials have the enormous task of keeping the public informed. As U.S Surgeon General, Dr. David Satcher is on the front lines.

Just days after warning against over prescribing Cipro why did public health officials change their minds and start treating thousands of postal workers with the antibiotic?

First I want to acknowledge that we are learning together but it's not inconsistent. Unless you can say people were probably exposed to anthrax, don't place them on Cipro. We now know that anthrax can be spread even through a sealed envelope, by passing through machines used for sorting mail. So now we are erring on the side of caution and giving all postal workers treatment.

But there has been criticism that you only erred on the side of caution with congressional workers and not postal workers?

Postal workers should know that the CDC didn't make decisions for Congress and postal workers differently based on epidemiology. A week ago we had no reason to believe that the mere passing of an envelope through a post office could cause people to be exposed. Now we know that, though we don't know how.

Shouldn't you have taken a more aggressive approach to begin with and asked questions later?

Not if the more aggressive approach is going to do more harm than good. We're balancing risks and benefits here. Epidemiology is about balancing risks. We have very little experience with anthrax. No one has experienced an attack like this before.

Is there a safe anthrax vaccine and would you consider using it on postal workers?

It's fairly safe and about 93% effective. It could be used in high-risk workers and those could be postal workers. But there are other ways to protect workers from anthrax short of a vaccine, for example you could treat the mail.

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