Local News

Bioterrorism Threats Taken Seriously

Posted March 3, 1999

— Like bomb threats, the fear of anthrax has forced the evacuation of buildings all over the country. Thursday, the threat of the highly infectious and deadly bacteria hit close to home.

A call to the Lumberton Dialysis Clinic Thursday morning was cause for alarm. The caller said anthrax had been placed inside the clinic.

TheCenters for Disease Control, theFBIandFort Braggwere notified as emergency teams secured and decontaminated the facility.

Even though Thursday's threat may be nothing more than a hoax -- to the FBI it was an act of terrorism.

"It is causing a lot of concern, a lot of problems and it's a great deal of expense -- financial expense," says Phil Hanna, director ofDuke University'sAnthrax Research Lab.

The law enforcement, medical and other expenses associated with last year's hoaxes totaled $36 million according to the CDC.

But Hanna says the human toll of a real attack would be much greater. He says 90 percent of the people who inhale the microscopic bacteria die within a week.

"You die rapidly. It's a very fast death," says Hanna.

That harsh reality has law enforcement agents and military personnel on alert. Last year, Camp Lejeune Marines held a drill to prepare for a real attack.

Dr. Hanna agrees that it may be only a matter of time.

"The prevailing wisdom is that you're right and everything has to be in place to minimize the impact of such an occurrence," says Hanna.

The symptoms of anthrax can begin hours after exposure or days later. Symptoms include fever, fatigue, cough and mild chest discomfort followed by severe respiratory distress. Anthrax can not be passed from person to person.

There have been a number of recent anthrax threats in the United States:

  • A clinic in Rhode Island was targeted on Thursday.
  • On Wednesday, Mormon headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah, received a threat.
  • Just a couple of weeks ago, clinics in Asheville, NC; New Hampshire; Washington, D.C; Wisconsin; Connecticut, and South Dakota received threats on the same day.
  • California has seen more than 30 threats this year already.

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