Public health officials say tests are underway to check the effectiveness of diluted doses of smallpox vaccine, which would be one way to immediately expand the number of people who could be treated in case of terrorist attacks using the deadly virus.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told reporters last week that there currently is no evidence of smallpox, but U.S. officials are taking steps to be prepared for it.
"We happen to be, at this point in time, almost the victim of our own success," Fauci said. "The public health community succeeded in eradicating smallpox from the world, and with that was the discontinuation of the immunizations against smallpox. Now we have a relatively naive and unprotected population, which we're trying to do something about."
The country currently has 15 million doses of smallpox vaccine, Fauci said, and tests are underway to see how effective the doses remain after dilution.
If the vaccine remains useful at one-fifth strength, then 75 million people can be treated, he said. At one-tenth strength, the stockpile would cover 150 million people. The country also is accelerating efforts to produce more full-strength vaccine, he said.
As for anthrax, Fauci said pharmaceutical companies are working on tests to spot exposure and infection more rapidly. Those tests would probably also have a higher incidence of false positives, he cautioned.
Meanwhile, Dr. Joyce Brothers said people should avoid taking unnecessary precautions out of superstition or misinformation.
The noted psychologist noted that the forerunners of psychological problems stemming from the anthrax outbreak are starting to appear. People are self-medicating, she said, with liquor stores reporting higher sales and doctors reporting more requests for tranquilizers.
The best way to avoid mass hysteria, Brothers said, relies on the three kinds of human reactions to extreme emergencies: altruistic behavior, freezing in place, and mindlessly fleeing. Each occur in about a third of the population. Focusing the altruistic third's helpful actions on those reacting without thinking will stop the situation from boiling over, she said.
(Thanks to UPI Science Writer Scott Burnell)
The mayor and town council of Howey-In-The Hills, Fla., have adopted colloidal silver -- tiny particles of silver suspended in distilled water -- as their preferred cure for anthrax infection and other diseases, even though it's been outlawed.
Scientists say there are two problems. It doesn't work, and it turns the skin blue and gray -- permanently.
The town newsletter quotes officials in the town of 900 people north of Orlando, Fla., calling colloidal silver a "simple solution" for anthrax. The newsletter said those who are interested can contact Police Chief Curtis Robbins.
The Orlando Sentinel picked up the story, much to the dismay of Robbins.
"I don't take colloidal silver and I only know what I learned from the Internet," Robbins said. "If you're interested, you need to talk to your doctor, contact the Food and Drug Administration or research the Internet.
"I hate the article," he said. "I can't reach the mayor. He's apparently out of town. He shouldn't have mentioned my name. I'm sure we're going to do battle over this, but I'm sure we'll do it in a professional way."
Silver was used as late as the 1930s as a preservative for milk and in the 1950s it was added to nose drops used for allergies.
It was at that point that doctors began to notice people using colloidal silver for extended periods were turning gray or blue. The condition, known as algyria, occurs from a build up of the silver in the skin, eyes and internal organs
Companies stopped using the substance but it made a comeback with the advent of the Internet, and in the mid-1990s the FDA started warning manufacturers to stop selling it on the Web. It was outlawed in 1999.
But Mayor Greg Bittner calls the elixir "the greatest medicinal item that has ever come along. It kills every virus."
Dr. Stephen Barrett of the National Council Against Health Fraud asked, "Is he going to be re-elected as buffoon of the year?"
NATIONAL LEAD POISONING PREVENTION WEEK
This is National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week, and the Environmental Protection Agency and communities across the United States will be marking the third annual observance by raising awareness about lead poisoning through health fairs for families, lead tests for children and presentations for property owners.
Public health officials say thousands of children each year are exposed to lead in older homes. These hazards can include lead dust from renovations or deteriorated lead paint, as well as lead-contaminated soil and water. Children who are lead poisoned often suffer from learning disabilities, brain and central nervous system damage and other physical effects.
As part of National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week, families are encouraged to get homes and children tested for lead.
The EPA has recently developed a nutrition brochure to help parents understand the connection between lead poisoning and the foods children eat. Studies show that a low-fat diet rich in iron, calcium and vitamin C can help to reduce the effects of lead.
(Web site: epa.gov/lead)