Date Published: 19 February 2010

Many Americans would delay taking recommended antibiotics after anthrax attack - according to Harvard Poll

Health News from the United States of America (USA)

Most Americans would worry about serious illness or death after anthrax attack, but many would delay taking recommended antibiotics

In a national poll aimed at helping with planning efforts for a public health response to a possible bioterrorism attack, researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) have found that, in response to a fictional scenario describing a significant anthrax attack in their city or town, most Americans (89%) will likely follow public health recommendations to obtain prophylactic antibiotics. However, a significant minority of those likely to pick up antibiotics (39%) will hold on to them rather than take them right away, which public health experts believe may put them at greater risk of serious illness. Further, 21% of Americans are ?not at all familiar”with the term ?inhalation anthrax', and an additional 25% hold the mistaken belief that inhalation anthrax is contagious ? two factors that could compromise their following emergency instructions meant to protect them against this biological agent. Anthrax has been identified by government planners as a likely agent should there be a future bioterrorist attack, and ?inhalation anthrax” is a potentially lethal illness that can be contracted when spores containing anthrax are inhaled. Public health experts believe antibiotics that are started quickly ? possibly even before a person is certain they have been exposed to anthrax spores or before symptoms of the illness appear ? may have the greatest likelihood of successful treatment.

The poll was conducted December 9-28, 2009 among a national sample, as well as people living in areas that actually experienced anthrax attacks in 2001: Washington, DC , Trenton/Mercer County, NJ and New York City. The poll was conducted as part of an ongoing series by the Harvard Opinion Research Program at HSPH. The polls are aimed at helping federal, state and local governments better understand the general public's needs and beliefs in the event of a traumatic public health emergency, including biological threats and natural disasters, and to formulate plans for the best delivery of countermeasures.

The Harvard researchers have no knowledge of an impending biological attack using anthrax in the United States.


Source: Harvard School of Public Health, USA.

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