U.S. editorials on bioterrorism

Oct. 18, 2001 at 10:37 AM
share with facebook
share with twitter

New York Times

One of the challenges of living in the post-Sept. 11 world is defining acceptable risk. We know now that mail can contain anthrax, that tall buildings can be brought down by hijacked airplanes. We have been informed that it's at least conceivable for the subway to be flooded with toxins, Disney World to be crop-dusted with biological weapons and smallpox to be spread through a shopping mall. The question now is what we do with that information.

One answer yesterday came from the House of Representatives, which bowed to security concerns and closed up shop for the week. "We felt that was the most prudent thing to do," said Speaker Dennis Hastert. The other came from the Senate, which decided to continue operating even though some staff members had tested positive for anthrax exposure. "We will not let this stop the work of the Senate," said the majority leader, Tom Daschle, whose office was the target of an anthrax-laden letter.

The Senate had the better idea. As the House leader, Mr. Hastert naturally feels responsible for the members of Congress and staff under his direction and wants to do the best thing for their safety. That's important. But whoever has been mailing letters laden with anthrax scored a coup when he or she got the House to shut down. Public officials who are continually urging the public to go about their normal lives have an obligation to lead the way.

Since World War II, America has had the luxury of constantly ratcheting up the level of safety. We have federal agencies charged with making sure that consumer products are not dangerous even if they're misused. When our homes, schools or neighborhoods are exposed to elements like asbestos, we want the air cleaned until every single particle is gone. The only acceptable risks, to our modern way of thinking, were the ones we deliberately courted ourselves.

Now we're being forced to adjust our thinking. No one can absolutely promise that people will be protected from terrorism when they go to a football game, ride in the subway or take their children shopping in the mall. Zero tolerance for risk of terrorism would mean restricting movement and contacts with other people to a more and more drastic degree. That road ultimately leads to huddling in caves of our own making. People need guidance about where to draw the line, particularly from our elected officials. It is useless to simultaneously tell Americans to get back to normal life, and then warn them that there is an imminent danger of another, unspecified terrorist attack. Officials need to lead, by word and deed, toward the sort of courageous prudence that Mr. Daschle showed when he decided to close Senate office buildings for environmental sweeps but keep the Senate itself open for business.

As we chart our way through this new reality, we have to be careful to avoid falling into government by security experts. The Secret Service and the other men and women who make their living figuring out how to keep their clients safe are important. We need their advice. But their world view is necessarily limited. They can only define the safest possible world. It is up to the rest of us to find the best.

Washington Times

One could almost hear the thudding footsteps of Washingtonians sprinting to the nearest drugstore to get a fix of Cipro after it became clear yesterday that men and women working in and around the offices of Sens. Tom Daschle and Russ Feingold had been exposed to a highly refined form of Bacillius anthracis, the bacteria that causes anthrax. Understanding that this is precisely the response that the terrorists were hoping for does not make it any easier to many of us to remain calm. After all, screaming nerves and rushing feet, aggravated by shrill television coverage that one wag calls "a weapon of mass distraction," can overwhelm the brain. However, Washingtonians should take a deep breath, even if waiting at the pharmaceutical counter. There are many reasons not to surrender to fear.

In the first place, anthrax is not contagious. Second, only four persons have actually been diagnosed with anthrax, which works out to .0000000113 percent of the population of 300 million. About three dozen more Americans have been exposed to the bacillius. An exposure means just that -- that a person has come into contact with the bacterium. Third, anthrax infections do not necessarily follow exposure -- in fact, they usually don't -- thanks to the body's many natural defenses. The body can successfully fight off anthrax with antibiotics. Moreover, despite the run on Cipro, the strains of anthrax used in the attacks appear to be vulnerable to many classes of antibiotics, including fluoroquinolone (Cipro is in this class), tetracycline and penicillin.

Nevertheless, Americans need more than the mental relief that they feel after running up a high bill on antibiotics. Prompt and accurate information averts many fears, and to avoid a further rush of panic, the federal government should promptly begin a campaign to provide continuous information about anthrax in particular and bioterrorism in general, preferably vocalized by a familiar face and voice.

U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher is the logical familiar face and voice. The problem is, Dr. Satcher, a Clinton appointee, appears to be MIA during these crucial times. He is a former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and a former administrator of the Agency of Toxic Substances and Diseases Registry. He's definitely in the know. Yet he has been all but invisible since Sept. 11, as if his priorities remain safe-sex education for teen-agers, and drugs and teen-agers. America has more pressing needs at the moment. Indeed, other precautionary, preventative and public service steps should be considered as well.

War is serious, which makes these serious times indeed. So, the first step is to stop sprinting and take a deep calming breath -- and to listen to familiar voices of reason.

Boston Globe

The fear is palpable at the mailbox now. Like so much of what used to be routine before Sept. 11, opening a letter is scary.

Anthrax powder has been mailed to people in New York, Nevada, Florida - where it killed a man - and in Washington, D.C., where more than 30 members of Senator Tom Daschle's staff have tested positive for exposure to the bacteria.

Anthrax could be mailed to us. The possibility is unlikely, but probabilities make it no less chilling - and the unknowns of who is mailing the stuff, or why, ratchet up the tension.

We tell ourselves that the threat could be coming from a home-grown American crazy, or crazies, for exposure to anthrax in an envelope cannot kill thousands in one swipe and would not seem to be the modus operandi of international terrorists bent on destroying American society.

But the forces of Osama bin Laden might well be engaging in a form of bioterrorist water torture, showing us that they are capable of dropping fear by the teaspoon as well as by the ton. Their weapon is not really the anthrax, but the fear.

Either way, we're rattled, and trying not to be because fear is what terrorists, domestic or foreign, want. So we press forward and drive to the mall, even as we wonder if this symbol of western consumption is the wrong place to be on a Saturday afternoon.

We strive for the stiff upper lip while inching over a bridge in rush hour traffic, pulling the imagination back from the place we do not want it to go.

We find the idea of taking a plane unthinkable and so opt to achieve normalcy on a train, a very long car ride, or maybe by putting off the trip for a month or so.

Is this irrational? Have we become our own breed of American crazy?

''To call the behavior irrational is over-simplistic,'' says David Ropeik, director of risk communication at the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis. He says that we're instinctively programmed to be scared when threatened. ''It's human nature.''

His is a calming voice in the emotional storm, mainly because he admits to being frightened too, having lost a friend on American Airlines Flight 11.

''I look up at a plane now and flash back, or feel my heart clench,'' he says. But he also has the antidote: perspective.

Statistically, the probability of any of us dying in a terrorist attack is low - annual deaths from heart disease are 120 times higher than the number of victims lost Sept. 11.

Emotionally, he, and we, know the human spirit is resilient and has learned to live with risk every day. Just as we do not dwell on the cancer morbidity or crime numbers or car accidents, we will develop a wary, but working, relationship with the threat of terror.

It's just going to take a while.

Boston Herald

We knew our lives had changed forever on Sept. 11, but this latest news from Washington and from New York is a terror of a different magnitude.

It's not that many lives have been lost during this hideous anthrax scare. It's just that countless lives have been disrupted, and we are not a society that takes well to having our plans changed and our workplaces taxed by the burden of dealing with this latest threat.

Yesterday official Washington seemed to revert to its pre-Sept. 11 stance - confusion with an over-lay of partisanship. Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert ordered the work of the House halted through Tuesday while further tests are conducted at the Capitol.

On the Senate side, Democratic leader Tom Daschle, whose office was on the receiving end of an anthrax-contaminated letter (resulting in the exposure of 29 Senate staffers and two Capitol policemen to the bacteria), announced that the Senate would stay in session and continue its business. Senate staffers, however, were excused and three Senate office buildings shut down for testing.

What terrorists could not accomplish on Sept. 11, someone has managed to do with a few well-placed brown granules sent in an innocent-looking letter from a nonexistent elementary school in a very real New Jersey town.

In New York City the midtown Manhattan office of Gov. George Pataki was also shut down until Monday for decontamination after one room tested positive for the ``probability of anthrax.''

To add to the confusion, what was described by some sources as ``professional grade'' anthrax was yesterday described as ``garden variety'' anthrax.

Sorting out that truth becomes increasingly important in the days ahead as investigators seek the source of the deadly material. But if that source proves to be not some individual fiend, but state-sponsored bioterrorism, then this nation should show no mercy - no mercy at all.

Des Moines Register

"In Cipro we trust." These were the words of Tom Brokaw of NBC news after his assistant contracted cutaneous anthrax when she was opening her boss' mail. Has an antibiotic really become the new savior of the American people?

Americans love their pills. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, of the 110 million prescriptions for antibiotics written each year, 40 percent were unnecessary. Frequently, unneeded drugs are doled out because patients pressure doctors. And even though antibiotics won't treat the common cold, it's estimated that 17 million prescriptions were written for this condition anyway. People pop antibiotics because they think it isn't a big deal.

But it is a big deal.

Because if this country thinks it has problems with anthrax now, just wait until the bacteria won't respond to antibiotics. When Cipro and other antibiotics are overused and taken unnecessarily, they could eventually have no effect in treating anthrax. The overprescribing of infection fighters results in bacterial resistance to drugs. And no one wants anthrax adapting to the limited drugs available to treat it.

Mark Richards, a pharmacist and owner of Richards Pharmacy in Des Moines, is concerned about the public reaction to threats of anthrax. "We're exposing bacteria to antibiotic therapy that people don't need. The bacteria could become immune to it. People need to remember it doesn't work as a preventative and inappropriate use of it will create an even bigger problem."

Richards points out that other bacterial problems, more life threatening than anthrax, could mutate as a result of antibiotic overuse. Bacteria adapt to their environment. When antibiotics are no longer effective in treating everything from upper-respiratory to bladder infections, people can get sick and die.

Jerry Karbling of the Iowa Pharmacy Association said, "There has been a lot of concern in the pharmacy community at both a local and national level about this expanded and potentially inappropriate use of Cipro. If people start taking it unnecessarily or overresponding to fears, it's unclear how effective or ineffective this drug could be in treating anthrax."

And then what? Anthrax is currently a curable condition when promptly and properly diagnosed and treated. But fearful patients demanding unneeded antibiotics from doctors essentially jeopardize the lives of fellow Americans who are exposed to or contract anthrax. So maybe the country trusts in Cipro right now, but it's unclear how long that drug will be worthy of its revered status.

Indianapolis Star

If the enemy wasn't clear on Sept. 11, it is today.

It is those who would disrupt the American system of government and way of life.

Their targets are carefully chosen for effect: the media, the halls of Congress, political and economic institutions that symbolize our freedoms and our rights.

With the war against terrorism proceeding on the Afghan front, the United States now turns its attention within our borders to those who wreak psychological havoc on our citizens.

Concentrations of anthrax that have been sent through the mail, and perhaps dispersed into government buildings, suggest a sophisticated and organized campaign to unsettle American society. By forcing a temporary shutdown of the House of Representatives, they have taken aim in much the same way as the terrorists who skyjacked our airliners on Sept. 11.

Although authorities have not determined who is responsible for the spread of anthrax spores or whether the instances are linked, it's unlikely these attacks could have been accomplished without knowledge in biological warfare. The involvement of another country cannot be ruled out.

Anthrax is not difficult to obtain but it's hard to deliver in high enough concentrations to infect people. The outbreak is the first in the United States in more than two decades, a period when other countries were experimenting with anthrax production. That includes the former Soviet Union, which ran a large biological weapons program for years.

Anthrax bacteria can be gleaned from dead animals or acquired from supplies that have been used by scientists for research. The truth is, no one really knows how much anthrax is out there and who has it.

This is no time for panic. Health and safety officials have acted quickly to test and identify anthrax spores; production of antibiotics to treat the disease has been stepped up. Closing the House of Representatives for a few days was a prudent action to protect its staff and the public who visit. But the actual risk most of us face remains close to zero.

Fear is the goal of those who would unleash random acts of biological terror on large populations. Americans must not give in to such intimidation.

The U.S. and its allies know how to fight conventional wars. They have the military muscle to put down the opponent on the battlefield.

We are all enlisted now and must be more alert to any suspicious activity that could be a precursor to an act of terrorism. We will learn on the job to fight an unconventional war against enemies trying to scare us with invisible agents.

Los Angeles Times

Anthrax spores found near the heart of U.S. government--the offices of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle--have cranked up bioterrorism anxieties. The worry is still out of proportion to the immediate danger. Only one person has died of anthrax to date. While 31 congressional employees have tested positive for anthrax exposure, none show symptoms. And the pathogen cannot be contracted through exposure to an infected person. Still, the attacks reveal significant flaws in federal public health coordination that Congress and the Bush administration should address.

First, the short term. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention needs to distribute guidelines to curtail the prescribing of antibiotics when they aren't needed. A perceived national shortage of Cipro, the U.S. trade name for the antibiotic recommended to treat anthrax, was eased by the manufacturer's decision to triple production and more significantly by the Food and Drug Administration's announcement Wednesday that it will tell doctors how to use two other widely available antibiotics--doxycycline and penicillin--against anthrax.

Many doctors have too quickly acquiesced to patients' demands for antibiotics, and not just for anthrax fears. The overuse of antibiotics in medicine and in agriculture, where farmers use them as livestock growth promoters, has helped create super-resistant strains of bacteria. A broader problem than antibiotic overuse is that the U.S. public health infrastructure, from emergency rooms to disease surveillance, has been crumbling. Although largely ignored by Washington, the problems, including last year's delays in distributing flu vaccine to public health departments, are familiar to most Americans.

President Bush can begin a more vigorous defense of the public health by appointing a respected, politically seasoned biologist like Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, to a Cabinet-level post overseeing the U.S. Public Health Service. This is an unconsolidated, uncoordinated mess of 7,000 public health departments scattered throughout the government.

The new agency's first priority should be to give underfunded local public health departments guidance on who would dispense medications, how people would get them and how diagnoses would be made. It is to local departments, already dangerously strained, that people would turn first. Federal anti-terrorism guidelines for states and counties, crafted after the 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City, only address nuclear, chemical and conventional explosive attacks.

The agency should also look at other biological hazards. For instance, should the federal government once again require vaccinations against smallpox, a highly infectious disease that has disappeared from nature but not from weapons development?

Those steps would sharpen the bureaucracy. To sharpen the science, Bush should bring together health, military, business, federal and local bioterrorism experts to advance biology research much as the Manhattan Project revolutionized physics in the early 1940s. A new kind of war needs new forms of civil defense. Given the rapid advances in biotechnology for both good and evil in the late 20th century, nowhere is the need for innovation greater than in biology.

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

We wish we could report that this is a bad dream or simply a hoax. But it isn't, and we can understand the feelings of those who are having trouble keeping it all in balance.

But keeping this new reality - bioterrorism in the United States - in perspective is exactly what Americans need to be doing. What makes it difficult is that the facts seem to change by the hour, and the relatively few cases of anthrax infection or exposure seem too often conjoined with the reprehensible hoaxes and cases of mistaken identity - with almost anything white (table salt, flour, artificial sweetener) being confused with the real deal.

The official advice - keep your wits about you - is still the best advice. That should go doubly for America's leaders.

On Wednesday, though, some congressional leaders seemed as panicky as many of their constituents. Speaker Dennis Hastert ordered an unprecedented shutdown of the House after about 30 congressional employees, most of them in Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle's office but also three who work for Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold, tested positive for exposure to anthrax. There were rumors that anthrax had even infiltrated the Senate's ventilation system - rumors later retracted.

Vigilance is vital, but so is common sense, now more than ever. And it must start at the top. That's why it was reassuring that President Bush went on his planned trip to China. That's why it was reassuring Wednesday to hear Daschle proclaim, "We will not let this stop the work of the Senate." A day earlier, Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott foolishly called for Congress to adjourn rapidly - for the year - because of the threat.

Let's be clear. We are not suggesting that caution be abandoned, especially in the nation's capital. It hasn't been. The House temporarily canceled legislative business to allow the Capitol complex to be examined over the next five days for signs of anthrax. The Senate will stay in session, Daschle said, while testing of its offices continues.

While they acknowledge the real threat of terrorism, whether tied to the Sept. 11 attacks or the result of domestic terrorists, Bush and others have wisely called on Americans to go about their business while they also stay alert. But that message will surely ring hollow if some congressional leaders are perceived by the public to be taking cover or, worse, abandoning their posts at the first sign of trouble.

The country is facing a national crisis - one that began with the criminal acts of Sept. 11 and will be with us for some time to come. National confidence has been undermined. It needs to be shored up, particularly confidence in America's institutions. Congress must help to set the example.

Anthrax does pose a potentially serious threat, but we are by no means defenseless. Cipro, which has become a household name in the past few weeks, is not the only antibiotic that can fight the infection. Other anthrax drugs such as doxycycline, amoxicillin and even penicillin also are available. Besides, only a relatively small number of Americans apparently have been exposed. Most people are not in jeopardy.

It's hard to argue for less information, but the sheer volume of facts, rumors, claims and counterclaims released by well-intentioned public officials and others may be adding to the fears. Some of this stuff is premature or just plain wrong. Enter Tom Ridge - please. The director of the new Office of Homeland Security can help immensely by being the coordinator of information and key intermediary between the government and the public. Ridge needs to begin the briefings he promised two days ago. Today would be a good time to start.

St. Paul Pioneer Planet

In the dozen days since Florida photo editor Robert Stevens died of inhalation anthrax, anxiety has spread much out of proportion to confirmed infections. Such is the nature of terror. But when the weapon is a potentially lethal bacterium, caution and the unfamiliar turf of the war pose unavoidable complications to just getting on with everyday life.

Panic, however, never won a war. That makes both perspective on the threat and the coolness under pressure of mail handlers and bio-detectives essential.

As for perspective, the Centers on Disease Control has records of only 236 cases altogether of the three kinds of anthrax infection of humans between 1955 and 1999 in this country.

Intestinal anthrax is contracted by eating tainted meat containing huge numbers of anthrax spores.

Cutaneous anthrax, the kind contracted by two people in New York confirmed to have an infection, responds promptly to antibiotics. Ninety-five percent of anthrax cases are of this type, where the bacteria enter through a break in the skin.

Inhalation anthrax, which killed Stevens, is almost always fatal. There were 18 recorded cases of inhalation anthrax in the United States during the 20th century.

Despite hearing and reading these data over and over during the past few days, the appearance of mail-borne microbes in prominent places spreads the fear. It cannot be random that targets include news organization offices and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's Washington office.

Add to the genuine hazards posed by these anthrax attacks via mail the bogus ones and you get a picture of the new reality that is taxing public safety and health resources, stretching to meet the demand. Attorney General John Ashcroft sent the hoaxers and nutcakes the right messages Tuesday, announcing that they can expect federal prosecution for their nasty antics.

A profoundly troubling manifestation of anxiety about anthrax is the spike in demand for Cipro and other antibiotics. It is unnecessary to stockpile a personal supply, as some people apparently are trying to do. The drug is being prescribed when indicated for people exposed or suspected of being exposed in workplaces such as NBC News and a wing of Senate offices.

Even more troubling than hoarders is the reported desire to start taking antibiotics on the notion that this is solid prevention. Especially for those with weak immune systems, indiscriminate antibiotic use increases the risk for fostering resistant bacteria, potentially reducing protection against bioterrorism.

The deliveries of anthrax seem every day more part of a pattern to incite frenzy. The perpetrators must not be granted that satisfaction.

San Francisco Chronicle

Anthrax is: a) a health scare that has reached the top ranks of the country's media and politics; b) beyond worrying about for the huge majority of Americans; c) a mystifying scare that needs responsible handling. The answer is: all of the above.

When such figures as newscaster Tom Brokaw, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and New York Gov. George Pataki are sent anthrax-sprinkled letters, it's impossible to dismiss the scare. Investigators now believe the packets sent to Brokaw and Daschle were from the same source. This menace is no longer isolated nor random.

The threats have spread to other news organizations where exhaustive testing is under way. On Capitol Hill, Congress has shut down until Tuesday for sampling and disinfecting of offices. Hundreds of employees will be tested for exposure. These are prudent steps when direct danger exists.

At the same time, it's far from a national health threat. The genuine attacks target high visibility personalities, save for the first incident at a Florida tabloid. In that case, an editor was infected and died, the only death so far. Others exposed or made sick are being treated successfully.

The drumbeat of anthrax reports has made it seem as though a deathly wave is sweeping the country. But it's localized mostly in New York, Washington, D. C., and Florida. Other reports are either unsubstantiated or spurious.

With the events of Sept. 11, there are no safe predictions about the future.

But the alternative shouldn't be panic. The public needs a dose of caution, not Cipro.

The source of the anthrax poisonings must be identified, and the malefactor caught. But the scare so far is no excuse for pill hoarding, jumpy suspicions, or sensationalism. Such jitters produce a frightened public, just the results the perpetrators want.

Raleigh News Observer

Those responsible for widespread anthrax scares may feel a sense of victory in the shutdown of the U.S. House of Representatives. But America and its democracy are not bowing to anyone.

There is a difference between concern and panic, and it would be a mistake to suppose that a host of differing reports on the nature of the anthrax to which some Capitol Hill staffers now have been exposed, and on the possible suspects in what may be a conspiracy, will wear out the panic button in Washington. The decision yesterday temporarily to shut down offices and the U.S. House is indeed disconcerting. But it doesn't mean that the individuals or groups who have participated in the anthrax scare have closed the government by any means.

Democracy doesn't adjourn, though the chambers that oversee it might not always be in formal session. The decision by congressional leaders to have the Capitol checked for further spread of anthrax was a perfectly rational one -- suspicious packages have been reported, and after handling a certain piece of mail, several of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's staffers have tested positive for anthrax exposure, along with other staff members as well. It simply makes sense to try to determine the hows and whys of the situation, and to use the government's considerable investigative powers to seek the sources and reasons for the transport of anthrax in the country's mail system.

Incidents of exposure in different parts of the country -- including one in Florida that caused a man's death -- have not yet been linked to foreign terrorists, and there is speculation that they are of domestic origin. But it's early yet, and the investigation into these episodes will of course be different than that into the heinous crashes at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

The casualties there were in the many thousands, sudden and clearly intended to shock and frighten Americans by attacking the country's prominent symbols. In the case of the use of anthrax through letters and packages, the motivation is less certain, and the methodology more subtle -- though in the case of mail sent to Capitol Hill, clearly intended to gain attention through high-profile exposure.

The watchwords that should guide the nation's response to this latest threat, whatever its degree, should be: Take care, proceed with caution -- but proceed. Widespread safeguards already are in place in terms of mail going to businesses and even to individuals at their homes. Awareness is an ally in this particular confrontation, and with regard to anthrax exposure, there really is no stronger ally than information.

Congress will soon return, full-strength, with a resolve to respond quickly but efficiently to threats at home and in the caves and hollows of Afghanistan. America has withstood its enemies in world wars, and it has helped its allies fight enemies of many magnitudes far from its own shores. It is too early to know, even in the case of Islamic terrorists and certainly with regard to the anthrax scare, just what type of fight will ensue. But this nation's enemies may continue to be sure: They're in for one.

Philadelphia Inquirer

The nation is in dire need of an antidote for an infectious disease.

The disease is panic, and the cure is accurate, consistent information, delivered by a figure of trust.

The daily onslaught of reports about bioterrorism delivered via the mails, of media and government institutions targeted for anthrax poisoning, is disturbing, no doubt. But signs indicate many citizens are stumbling toward an out-of-proportion panic.

The unsettling effect is compounded by the herky-jerky release of information, by conflicting accounts allowed to linger in the air. A dramatic example occurred yesterday on Capitol Hill, where House leaders gave a far grimmer account of the anthrax release in Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's office than the South Dakota Democrat himself gave.

Even as Sen. Daschle was vowing to keep the Senate open for business, Speaker Dennis Hastert and Minority Leader Dick Gephardt were shutting down the House and suggesting that anthrax spores had found their way into the Capitol's ventilation system.

Confusion and anxiety are certainly understandable in the wake of insidious attack, but a nervous nation needs its leaders to do better than that.

The Bush administration would be wise to name one chief spokesperson for the anthrax/bioterrorism scare, preferably someone with a firm grasp of the medical terminology and issues. The power of one person with an authoritative tone and calm mien should not be underestimated.

Various Bush administration officials, among them Attorney General John Ashcroft and Health and Human Services chief Tommy Thompson, have taken turns commenting on anthrax incidents, but the effect so far has been neither clarity nor consolation.

One candidate for point person might be Tom Ridge, the director of Homeland Security, but he has his hands full getting a feel for the myriad challenges of the new role.

The obvious choice for questions about anthrax, smallpox or other bioterrorism threats would be the nation's head physician, the surgeon general.

But the incumbent, David Satcher, is a Clinton appointee whose nomination was vigorously opposed by then-Sen. Ashcroft, and whose sensible but frank report on sex education angered the Bush administration earlier this year.

If not Dr. Satcher, then an expert from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ought to be thrust to the forefront. Sen. Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican who is a physician, is another possible spokesman. The key point is: In circumstances such as these, Americans are far more likely to trust what they hear from a doctor than from a politician. Can you blame them?

(Compiled by United Press International)

Related UPI Stories
Trending Stories