WASHINGTON — More than 95 percent of anthrax cases recorded in the U.S. over the past 200-plus years have been skin-related, the non-lethal form of the disease, a Defense Department epidemiologist told WorldNetDaily.
“Pulmonary anthrax is very rare,” said the doctor, who works for the Defense Department’s Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md.
He emphasizes that it’s extremely hard to inhale anthrax spores to a degree necessary to develop the kind of lung-related anthrax that killed an elderly Florida man on Oct. 5.
He cites, as an example, North Dakota ranchers who have been getting infected with cutaneous anthrax for years, but who have not developed pulmonary anthrax.
The ranchers picked up the anthrax spores through cuts or sores on their hands after handling livestock, which carry the spores on their hides.
But none have inhaled enough spores to develop the potentially lethal form of anthrax. Nor have textile workers in North Carolina, who work with wool, the military doctor says. Pulmonary anthrax used to be called “Wool-Sorter’s Disease.”
Cutaneous anthrax is very treatable. Typically, spores are washed from the skin and patients are put on antibiotics.
An NBC News employee in New York, who recently developed a skin lesion after opening an envelope filled with anthrax spores, is expected to fully recover from the infection.
So far, there have been 12 confirmed cases of people being exposed to anthrax spores sent through the mail in New York and Florida. Government officials suspect the letters may have been sent by terrorists tied to the 9-11 attacks by Islamic hijackers, but as yet they have no solid evidence linking the two events.
Through nasal-swab testing, health officials have found spores inside the noses of several people, but they have not shown symptoms of pulmonary anthrax.
The epidemiologist says ripping open an envelope filled with spores doesn’t automatically mean you’ll inhale enough spores to infect your lungs. You have to inhale an estimated 8,000 to 50,000 spores to develop the bacteria that causes pulmonary anthrax, which is not contagious.
To infect thousands of people at once, rather than picking them off one by one through the mail, terrorists would have to disperse tens of kilograms of spores in a fine mist over a city, bioterror experts say.
The low-tech delivery system of letter bombs supports experts’ assertions that terrorists haven’t found a way to overcome the technological hurdle of designing a spray nozzle to effectively aerosolize anthrax in the 1 to 5 micron range necessary to infect a large segment of the population.
Though creative — and successful, insofar as they’ve caused mass hysteria and panic — the current anthrax outbreak does not constitute a mass attack, the military doctor says.
“The goal of these anthrax letters is clearly to scare us,” he said, “and so far it’s working.”