Originally created 10/10/01

Physicians urged to note symptoms



Although there is no reason to suspect anthrax is being spread in Georgia or Augusta, area physicians should be extra-sensitive to an unusual number of flulike symptoms showing up, health officials said.

On the heels of an anthrax death in Florida last week and the discovery of anthrax spores in a colleague of the victim, public health officials are investigating whether the bacterial spores were spread deliberately. The inhalational form of anthrax is often fatal but is extremely rare, making two cases together suspicious, officials have said.

"It's not contagious from person to person," said Dr. Keith Woeltje, a hospital epidemiologist at Medical College of Georgia Hospital and Clinics. "People don't shed spores when they're sick."

There is little reason to think, however, that the Florida cases are anything but an isolated incident, officials said.

"At this point, we do not have any reason to suspect anything in our area," said Dr. Frank Rumph, director of the East Central Health District. However, he advised area physicians, "If you have an increase in these symptoms, my index of suspicion would go up."

The symptoms of anthrax infection are similar to flu and include fever, headache, muscle ache and sore throat. In fact, the only way to tell whether it is anthrax is to swab for the spores, said Chin Wang Jr., the senior functional analyst for the anthrax vaccine program at the Southeast Regional Medical Command.

Such testing is not warranted now, but area physicians should be alert to the possibility and report any unusual increases to their local health department or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Rumph said.

There is an effective vaccine for anthrax but it is not available to the general public, Mr. Wang said. The bacteria respond to some classes of antibiotics, such as doxycycline and fluoroquinolones, Dr. Rumph said.

Creating the inhalational form of anthrax would be a difficult task because the spores must get deep into the lungs to do their damage, a task that has stumped some terrorist groups in the past, Dr. Woeltje said.

"The difficulty is getting the particles just the right size so you inhale them sufficiently," he said.

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or tomc@augustachronicle.com.