UHS ready for anthrax; Cipro kept on hand

Dr. Paul Genecin, director of Yale University Health Services, said Yale is well-equipped to handle an anthrax outbreak.

Genecin would not disclose the size of the University’s supply of Ciprofloxacin — the drug most frequently used to treat anthrax infection. But he said they have a large amount because Cipro is often prescribed for other reasons.

“In the event that there is a verified outbreak of anthrax, the civil defense comes in with the FBI, public health workers from the [Centers for Disease Control], and massive surveillance and treatment where appropriate, including prophylaxes for exposed individuals,” Genecin said.

Genecin said he did not want to disclose the amount of Cipro on hand because he did not want to cause panic.

“People are very focused on Cipro,” Genecin said. “The isolates of anthrax that have been reported so far are sensitive, as are most isolates of anthrax, to a wide variety of antibiotics. And a sense of panic that we are not going to appropriately handle people with anthrax because of Cipro alone is not well-founded.”

Even if there were a delayed response from public health officials, Genecin said Health Services has plenty of antibiotics on hand and he has no concern about the ability of UHS to treat infections.

If anyone in the community encounters suspicious packages or powders, Genecin said the appropriate response is to call campus police.

“People involved should stay at the site so they can be evaluated by the safety office to make sure they’re not walking around with spores on their clothing, get appropriately decontaminated at site, if necessary, and then make judgment about the next appropriate health treatment,” Genecin said.

Though University officials are prepared to deal with anthrax outbreaks, Genecin said he does not feel that Yale is any more at risk than any other community.

“I think that there is an appropriate level of surveillance and concern regarding the possibility of bioterrorism everywhere in the country, but no reason to think that Yale would be a particular target,” Genecin said. “We are certainly in a state of alert regarding unusual packages and envelopes and other types of containers with materials that are not clearly identifiable, but the University police and the University safety office are well-equipped and expert in dealing with these situations.”

Genecin said several students have requested prescriptions for Cipro but Health Services will not write preventative prescriptions. He also said stockpiling Cipro depletes the nation’s supply of the drug for those who might actually need it, and added that it can be harmful to take the drug without exposure.

Phil Schneider, president of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, agreed.

“Cipro is a very powerful antibiotic, and there is very little evidence of how it would affect your health if taken inappropriately,” Schneider said.

Bayer Corp., which has a patent on Cipro until 2003, has increased production of the drug in order to meet customer need.

“We’ve been watching sales since Sept. 11, when we were selling approximately 300 to 400 bottles (of Cipro) a day,” said Stewart Rahr, president and CEO of drug distributor Kinray, Inc. “On the day the first incident was reported, we jumped to about 1,000 bottles per day and since the incident in New York, we are selling 1,500 to 2,000 bottles per day.”

According to a CDC Health Advisory, in order for anthrax to cause infection it must be rubbed into irritated skin, swallowed, or inhaled as a fine, aerosolized mist. Early treatment following exposure can prevent infection.

Anthrax cannot be spread from one person to another.

–The Associated Press contributed to this report

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