20 Years After the Anthrax Attack, We Were Not Ready

It’s still the same Early on Larry Bush arrives on the gurney in the emergency room of JFK Medical Center in Atlantis, Florida, part of a suburb that stretches from Miami to West Palm Beach. Bush was a hospital staff chief and a physician with infectious diseases, heading to a regular morning meeting, but some ER doctors asked him to leave. A 63-year-old man named Bob Stevens was brought in around 2:30 a.m. with a raging fever. Now he is comatose and stuffed with a ventilator, with his frightened wife by his side.

The wife told Bush their story. As he recalled it later, he said they lived a few miles away, near the sea. Her husband worked in Boca Raton for a company that published supermarket tabloids, but they had been out of state for a week, visiting their daughter. He started getting sick the day before from the long drive home, and they fell asleep as soon as they arrived. She woke him up in the middle of the night, wandering around the house, confused.

Fever, confusion, rapid collapse: That Bush sounds like meningitis, an infection of the membranes around the spine and brain that can be caused by many organisms. He went to the hospital lab to check the test results, and he found himself staring at a microscope he hadn’t expected to see: threads of fine purple stick -shaped bacilli, with a thread ending like of train cars on a track.

Bush recognizes the arrangement, but he does not understand it. The infections of the organism he observed rarely occurred in the United States less than 20 times in a hundred years, and only in people in the narrow working order-cattle keepers and producers. on drums, not photo editors in a Florida Suburb

“If it’s anthrax,” he said to himself, “it’s bioterrorism until proven otherwise.”

On October 2, 2001. Two days were taken to substantiate Bush’s suspicions. When his diagnosis was announced at a press conference on October 4—20 years ago today — it launched the most complex and focused public health response in U.S. history up to that point, which only rivals today. in an attempt to answer Covid.

You can’t open a laptop or turn on the news three weeks ago without commemorating the 20th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Compared to the honored memory, the anthrax letter attacks-the first deadly bioterror attack on U.S. soil-are barely remembered, even in the days after Bush’s announcement that they had killed five people, another 17, sent 30,000 people to doctors, put 10,000 of them on preventive antibiotics, and shocked Capitol Hill and the New York media world.

But people involved in the response in the past, including Bush-who continues to work as an infectious disease specialist at the medical center where Stevens later died-said the anthrax attacks appeared to be difficult. lesson that might help Covid’s response if they are remembered. . “The good outcome is our ability to identify immediately, and report it,” said Bush, who is now also an associate professor of medical schools at Florida Atlantic University and the University of Miami. “But we’re not better prepared now than we used to be.”

A brief recap, even if something as complicated as an anthrax attack is hard to come by: Stevens wasn’t the first case; he was the only first to be diagnosed. Anthrax is shipped by mail in September and October. All victims had contact with spore-laced letters sent to Congressional offices and media, or were disclosed after the letters spread spores on mail processing equipment and contaminated other mails, workplace, and homes.

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