18 October 2001

Anthrax Just The Beginning

by Kate Melville

What could be deadlier than anthrax? Try smallpox and the bubonic plague.

Jim Matthews, an associate professor of pharmacy at Northeastern University's Bouvé College of Health Sciences, says that though the use of anthrax as a bioterrorist weapon is haunting, it is not nearly as frightening as the threat of attacks using smallpox or the bubonic plague.

"Anthrax is not easily transferred, so to develop it as a weapon is difficult, and in most cases, it responds quite well to antibiotics," said Matthews. "However, what I would be more fearful and weary of is an outbreak of smallpox or the bubonic plague, caused by terrorist acts. Smallpox, for example, is contagious and there is no effective treatment available. Even as we speak, some federal officials have reason to believe that Iraq is developing it as a biological weapon."

While Matthews believes that it is important for government to focus its energies on investigating the recent bioterrorist mailings and ensuring the availability of anthrax antibiotics and vaccines, he believes it is imperative that government accelerates work on protection against untreatable viruses.

"It's great that federal officials are working to have the anthrax antibiotic, Ciprofloxacin readily available for those believed to be infected," said Matthews. ("Incidentally the only anthrax vaccine manufactured in the U.S. by Michigan-based BioPort Corporation and sponsored by the Department of Defense, is only available through the Center for Disease Control and to members of the military.")

"However, contingency plans should be in the works to guard against other bioterrorist threats such as smallpox," warns Matthews.