KARACHI: US media spread anthrax fear: experts

November 15, 2001

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KARACHI, Nov 14: Medical experts, pathologists and microbiologists, on Wednesday, agreed that anthrax fear has spread because of the US media campaign and there are very slim chances of the disease’ spread in Pakistan.

Speaking at a public awareness seminar: “Know Anthrax: Don’t Panic,” organized by the Pakistan Society for Microbiology at the University of Karachi, the experts said that anthrax is preventable and curable.

They said that only one or two patients in Pakistan have been found positive of the bacteria. Even in the US only two deaths have occurred due to anthrax, they added.

The section chief of infectious diseases at the Aga Khan University Hospital, Dr M. Aslam Khan, said that the AKUH laboratory had received 15 samples of powders for anthrax tests, which included a sample from the office of an Urdu daily.

He said he was not aware of the results of all the samples except the one received from the newspaper office, which, he said, was positive.

Prof. Dr Shahana Kazmi of Karachi University’s Microbiology Department said only one type of anthrax — Gastrointestinal — is deadly, but is very rare in human beings. Three types of anthrax infection included cutaneous, inhalation and gastrointestinal, she added.

“In humans, anthrax is fairly rare; the risk of infection is about one out of 100,000,” she said.

Once the disease is established, the chances of survival of the patient become dim, she added. However, she said vaccines and antibiotics are easily available to cure the disease.

Dr Kazmi said that the most common (about 95%) form of the disease in human is “cutaneous anthrax,” which is usually acquired via injured skin or mucous membranes.

She said the spores of the B. anthracis can be produced and stored in a dry form and remain viable for decades and in some cases for over 100 years.

She said there is no evidence of person-to-person transmission of anthrax and quarantine of the affected individual is also not recommended by the medical experts.

Dr Essa Abdulla said the bacteria of anthrax could be found everywhere and the infected patients are found in Middle East, Africa, UK and USA.

He pointed out that the bacteria can die within ten minutes in boiling water. He said that the potential agents for spread of the disease could be chemicals, radioactive metals and biological weapons.

Dr Essa suggested to adopt precautionary measures, including proper handling of letters or packages. He said the anthrax spores could infect through skin, swallowing or inhalation, so any suspect package could be handled with care by not shaking, bumping or checking its contents. “Do not open, smell, touch or taste the material in the packet,” he said.

He said besides the AKUH, the National Institute of Health, Islamabad, has received some samples for testing of the anthrax bacteria.

In Sindh, he said, the NIH has nominated Civil Hospital Karachi and Liaquat Medical University, Jamshoro, for testing of any suspect materials.

others who spoke on the occasion included Director Sindh Poultry Vaccine Centre, Dr Shafqat Fatima, ex-Director, Defence Scientific Organization, Syed Zia Mehdi Rizvi, and Dr Saleem Hafiz of the Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation.—APP