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DHS Releases Guide on Guarding Emergency Crews From Anthrax

Ensuring the safety of emergency response personnel in the seven days after a release of anthrax into the air of a major urban area is the focus of a paper published last month by the U.S. Homeland Security Department, the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy reported on Thursday.

The document addresses matters pertaining to immunization, protection gear, preventative administration of medicines and removal of the pathogen. Threats of contact with the deadly bacteria would not be apparent immediately after its dispersal, but authorities can expect that response efforts carried out closest to the original release site will be the most dangerous, according to the document.

The paper recommends that relevant agencies "cache oral antimicrobial drugs before an incident for dispensing to responders immediately post-event," among other steps. Separate advice is under development for vaccinating emergency personnel against anthrax prior to a crisis involving the pathogen, the document says.

"Prior to potential exposure, all personnel who will respond to a wide-area aerosol anthrax attack need to be trained on the hazards of [anthrax] exposure and how to reduce these hazards," it adds. "Specifically, they need to be trained on the routes of transmission, the signs and symptoms of anthrax, the morbidity and mortality associated with various types of anthrax, any medical conditions which would place responders at increased risk for developing anthrax, and protective measures to reduce exposure to [anthrax] spores."

"Training on protective measures to reduce exposure shall include information on appropriate engineering controls, work practices, housekeeping, and proper use and selection of appropriate [personal protective equipment] and proper decontamination techniques," it states.

Potential further findings on infection threats and countermeasure efficacy could inform possible revisions to the recommendations, according to workers at multiple government offices who supported their development. Contributors specialized in areas such as biological defense, pathogens and workplace-related medical issues.

Meanwhile, the discovery of a package containing suspicious powder forced workers on Wednesday to vacate the U.S. Embassy in Stockholm, Sweden, the Associated Press reported. Mailings purported to contain anthrax have been relatively common since the deadly bacteria was sent to U.S. government and media targets in 2001, killing five people.

Elsewhere, scientists at the University of Virginia School of Medicine have determined that anthrax can proliferate in ground soil by infecting a frequently seen microorganism, according to a Wednesday press release.

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