Anthrax is not a common disease. On average less than 5 Americans a year get infected with it by natural causes. Anthrax is an infectious disease caused by Bacillus Anthracis, a spore-forming bacterium most commonly found in domestic and wild animals. They contract it from contaminated soil, in which spores can remain active for decades. Humans can contract the disease if they are exposed to an infected animal, which most commonly happens on a farm because of the close contact between the farmer and the livestock. It primarily affects grazing animals, such as sheep, horses, cattle, and goats.
The disease can be transmitted three ways: through the skin (cuts and abrasions), inhalation (air born spores that enter the lungs), and ingestion (undercooked meat, or contaminated foods). Symptoms usually appear within seven days. Inhalation is the most common form of contraction when infected from a bio-weapon. The symptoms of inhalation most resemble that of a common flu, except that the disease worsens until death.
The microbes multiply in the lymph nodes, spreading deadly toxins into the bloodstream. An average human being would have to breath in over 8000 spores to become infected. Inhalation anthrax is usually fatal. About 90 percent of people who inhale anthrax die. Since Sept 11 there has been close to 100 anthrax cases in the United States. These have not been from natural causes.
The Bush administration has labeled this a "bio-terrorist attack". The president said "it wouldn't surprise him" if Osama bin Laden, the person suspected in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, was behind the occurrences. A figure given in this article reads: "51% (of the general population) think the anthrax attacks are acts of terrorism". This is surprising to me.
I strongly believe that these attacks were planned and executed by Bin Laden and his followers. I think this because of the fact that Bin Laden has been known to try and acquire bio-weapons in the past. Also, the people responsible for the suicide-hijacking mission inquired about renting crop-dusting planes. Anthrax is not contagious, and therefore it is not that effective as a weapon of mass destruction. Vaccines are commonly made, although a mutant version of Anthrax could be produced that would resist vaccination. All of the anthrax that has been mailed so far is the same strain, and can be combated by common vaccines such as Penicillin.
The main reason I believe that they are choosing to use anthrax, is because it is easy to obtain a culture. It is found naturally in livestock, so obtaining a live strain would be much easier than getting a strain of smallpox, which is believed to be held under containment in only two places in the world. Although it is easy to get, it is not so easy to make into a weapon. Anthrax isn't all that hard to cultivate, the problem is making it into a deadly powder. First the cultures would have to be isolated extracted from the growth medium. Then one would have to grind the cultures to about 10 micrometers.
Any smaller and it will be exhaled and would not remain in the lungs. Any larger and the particles would be too heavy and just sink to the ground. Anthrax has been researched and developed as a weapon since World War I, and the technology for growing anthrax in a laboratory is over one hundred years old. George Bush urged the public to live their lives as normally as possible. He stated that "Our government is doing everything we can to make our country as safe as possible". I can't see why any average citizen would be afraid of personally getting anthrax.
These threats are real and shouldn't be ignored, but I have to laugh when I hear fellow peers speak about their fear of being infected. For a moment, think that there are about 280 million Americans, and about 100 cases of anthrax. That means there is about a. 00000035714% chance for the average American of getting infected.
And really, it's less of a chance than that, because the infected letters were being mailed deliberately to celebrities, and people who are well known. I assume the purpose of this is so that the cases would be assured news coverage. The people doing this want us to panic. I would only be slightly afraid if I were a celebrity, a person of power, or a postal worker. I blame the media for the hysteria. The TV news seems to make it seem like much more of a direct threat than it really is.
The media over-dramatizes everything in the US, but in a way I think it is the fault of the American people. For any media outlet to compete in the American marketplace you have to out-do "the other guy". Just look at the most popular programs on American TV: sensational "reality TV" programs such as Big Brother, Survivor, and The Real World. If you look at the appetite of the American people for sensational programming, then you can understand why news is reported in the sensationalistic manner that it is. I have no more fear today than I had on September 10.
I will fly on any plane and open any mail, and won't give it a second thought. Allowing ourselves to be afraid and changing our lives, ensures the victory of whoever is responsible for the infections..