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Tuesday, 6 November, 2001, 11:59 GMT
One hour anthrax test
Safety lab
The test is much quicker
Scientists have developed a test that can confirm the presence of anthrax in less than one hour.

The breakthrough comes as experts have issued a warning that the side effects of taking antibiotic medication to deal with anthrax exposure may be considerably more severe than first thought.

The test, which has been developed by the pharmaceutical firm Roche and researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, US, is to be made widely available to American laboratories and health agencies.

The first thing people want to know in a case of suspected exposure is whether the agent was in fact anthrax

Dr Franklin Cockerill
Until now, it has taken days to confirm the presence of anthrax in human and environmental samples.

Researcher Dr Franklin Cockerill said: "The first thing people want to know in a case of suspected exposure is whether the agent was in fact anthrax.

"Until now, local labs have been able to quickly determine the presence of a bacterium, but they can't tell whether it is anthrax or not.

"The current process to identify the presence of anthrax may take several days. The events of the last several weeks require as rapid a response as possible.

"This rapid identification will enable doctors to begin more timely treatment of patients who have been exposed to anthrax, and it will more quickly alleviate undue anxiety for people who haven┐t been exposed."

The test works by analysing the genetic material of the bacteria using a hi-tech device called a LightCycler.

The technology is widely available already, but the researchers have now speeded up the whole process.

Antibiotic warning

A study posted on the website of the journal Annals of Pharmacotherapy has warned that taking the drug ciprofloxacin (Cipro) can led to severe and permanently disabling side effects.

There has been a huge surge in demand for the antibiotic in the US, prompting warnings that the drug could lose its effectiveness if over-used unnecessarily.

Dr Jay Cohen, of the University of California, analysed 45 cases in which Cipro and closely related antibiotics were associated with adverse side effects involving tingling, numbness, burning pain, twitching or spasms.

He found that 42 of these patients also experienced other side effects.

These included dizziness, agitation, an impaired ability to think straight and hallucinations.

Three-quarters also reported symptoms such as muscle or joint pain or tendon rupture.

Dr Cohen rated 80% of the patients as having severe symptoms that significantly limited their ability to lead a normal life.

Most of these symptoms lasted for more than a month, and in 58% of cases they lasted for more than a year.

See also:

10 Oct 01 | Health
Anthrax: How do you stop it?
02 Oct 01 | Health
Anthrax antidote hope
05 Nov 01 | Health
New anthrax vaccine created
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