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Tuesday, 16 October, 2001, 11:49 GMT 12:49 UK
Anthrax attack: What to do
A microscopic view of stained anthrax bacteria
The threat of infection from anthrax is negligible
Panic has been spreading in America after a fourth anthrax infection was confirmed following contact with suspect mail packages.

Security experts say, though, that there is little cause for alarm if people take basic precautions when dealing with suspicious packages.

Be alert

If you suspect you have received mail containing dangerous items, check the packaging thoroughly before opening.

Take special care with packages

  • from senders you do not know
  • that have mis-spelled words
  • that have protruding wires
  • that are lopsided or uneven
  • that have a strange odour, discolourations, oily stains or crystallisation on the wrapper
  • that have excessive tape or string
  • that are unexpected
  • that appear to contain powder or other unusual contents.

    At home

    If any of the above appear to apply, do not panic. If it happens at home, ring the police and follow their instructions.

    FBI agents at the scene of the anthrax contamination in Florida that killed one man
    Advise your employees of any suspicious packages as soon as possible
    If you come across a suspect package at work, put it into your bin and place something on top of it, or put it in a plastic bag which can be sealed.

    Put a clear sign on the suspect package signifying it shouldn't be touched, then telephone the emergency number for your building, explaining who and where you are, how you can be reached by telephone and why you are suspicious.

    You may be asked where the item has come from and to whom it is addressed.

    Stay calm

    If you have already opened the mail or package and you're worried by the contents, remain calm, and ensure that no one enters or leaves the room.

    This is a precaution to limit those who might be exposed to any risk and to enable your employers to take quick action if appropriate.

    This advice applies equally in large, open-plan offices.

    Providing action is taken in the above fashion the risk from inadvertently opening a contaminated package is negligible, and any subsequent health effects are very likely to be treatable with antibiotics.

  • See also:

    16 Oct 01 | Asia-Pacific
    Asia hit by anthrax scares
    16 Oct 01 | Health
    UK stockpiles anthrax antibiotics
    16 Oct 01 | Americas
    Two new anthrax cases hit US
    15 Oct 01 | World
    Anthrax fears shake world
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