Personal Security VII – Facts About Anthrax and Smallpox

November 12, 2001

"Personal Security VII- Facts About Anthrax and Smallpox"
Los Angeles: Recently, there have been numerous calls for police service involving substances believed to be anthrax or other chemical or biological agents. Generally, these incidents have involved either letters sent via U.S. Mail or telephonic threats to particular individuals and buildings. In some incidents, the threat communication was combined with the actual dispersal of a hoax agent (e.g., a powder like substance). While all the calls in the Los Angeles area have, thus far, resulted in negative tests for these agents, the Department is empathetic to the fears and concerns being expressed by members of the community. It is the goal of the Los Angeles Police Department to engage in actions that will allay the fears and concerns of the community members.
The following information is provided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) to assist the public in better understanding these diseases. This is the first in a two-part series on Facts about Anthrax and Smallpox and the Public’s Preparedness and Response to such incidents.
Facts About Anthrax:
According to the United States Postal Service (USPS), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the Center for Disease Control (CDC), Anthrax is an acute infectious disease caused by the spore-forming bacterium Bacillus anthracis. Anthrax most commonly occurs in hoofed mammals and can also infect humans. Symptoms of the disease vary depending on how the disease was contracted, but usually occur within 7 days after exposure. The serious forms of human anthrax are inhalation anthrax, cutaneous anthrax and intestinal anthrax. Initial symptoms of inhalation anthrax infection may resemble the common cold. After several days, the symptoms may progress to severe breathing problems and shock. Direct person-to-person spread of anthrax is extremely unlikely, if it occurs at all. In persons exposed to anthrax, infection can be prevented with antibiotic treatment. Early antibiotic treatment of anthrax is essential. Delay lessens chances of survival. Anthrax usually is susceptible to penicillin, doxycycline and fluoroquinolones. Vaccination against anthrax is not recommended to prevent the disease in the general public.
Facts About Smallpox:
Smallpox infection was eliminated from the world in 1977. Smallpox is caused by variola virus. The incubation period is about 12 days (range: 7 to 17 days) following exposure. Initial symptoms include high fever, fatigue, headaches and backaches. A characteristic rash, most prominent on the face, arms, and legs, follows in 2-3 days.
The rash starts with flat red lesions that evolve at the same rate. Lesions become pus-filled and begin to crust early in the second week. Scabs develop and then separate and fall off after about 3-4 weeks. The majority of patients with smallpox recover, but death occurs in up to 30% of cases. Smallpox is spread from one person to another by infected saliva droplets that expose a susceptible person having face-to-face contact with the ill person. Persons with smallpox are most infectious during the first week of illness, because that is when the largest amount of virus is present in saliva. However, some risk of transmission lasts until all scabs have fallen off.
Routine vaccination against smallpox ended in 1972. The level of immunity, if any, among persons who were vaccinated before 1972 is uncertain; therefore, these persons are assumed to be susceptible. Vaccination against smallpox is not recommended to prevent the disease in the general public.
In people exposed to smallpox, the vaccine can lessen the severity of, or even prevent illness, if given within 4 days after exposure. Vaccine against smallpox contains another live virus called vaccinia. The vaccine does not contain smallpox virus.
The United States currently has an emergency supply of smallpox vaccine. There is no proven treatment for smallpox but research to evaluate new antiviral agents is ongoing. Patients with smallpox can benefit from supportive therapy (intravenous fluids, medicine to control fever or pain, etc.) and antibiotics for any secondary bacterial infections that occur.
Additional information regarding these and other diseases can be acquired by logging on to The Center for Disease Control.
This media advisory was prepared by Police Officer Victoria Diaz, Media Relations Section, 213-485-3586.