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Monday, 5 November, 2001, 13:51 GMT
Anthrax: How real is the threat?
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US President George W Bush has proposed making it a crime to buy, build or acquire biological weapons for terrorist attacks.

He also recommended that the United Nations should devise a means to investigate suspected biological warfare attacks.

The proposals came as the US Food and Drug Agency announced that four of its mail rooms in Washington had tested positive for anthrax during preliminary tests. If confirmed the finding would make the FDA the latest branch of the US Government to be affected by anthrax.

There were 17 confirmed cases of anthrax in the US in October, including 10 cases of inhalation anthrax and seven of the less dangerous skin anthrax. Four people have so far died from the disease.

Meanwhile, Pakistani officials say anthrax-infected letters have been identified in the country - apparently the first ones sent to Asia. A letter sent last week to the offices of the Daily Jang newspaper in Karachi has tested positive for the deadly spores, its editor has said.

Has the threat posed by the disease now been heightened? How do you feel the authorities have coped with the anthrax threat so far? Can governments ever adequately prepare for such terror?

We took your calls on this issue LIVE in a Talking Point phone-in programme on BBC World Service Radio and BBC News Online. To add your comments to the debate, use the form at the bottom of the page


  • Your comments since the programme
  • Your comments during the programme
  • Your comments before the programme

    Your comments since the programme

    I'm a US citizen and I believe our government is overlooking the labs we had in the US for the experimentation of anthrax. We could have our own extremists who may be responsible, as when these labs closed in the early 50's who is to say all the anthrax was destroyed?
    Geneva Hedgecock, USA

    I think perhaps the target at hand is to shut down the postal system

    Jo Ann Rattey Hicks, Moscow, Idaho
    God help those behind the anthrax attacks. It would be very easy to say that Iraq or Bin Laden is behind the anthrax attacks, but I don't believe they'd be that stupid to underestimate the lengths to which the US would go to protect herself against bioterrorism. If the attacks are indeed 'home grown', no punishment will be great enough. I do think, however, that perhaps the target at hand is to shut down the postal system. Despite electronic mail, we rely heavily on the US postal service and to bring down the postal service could bring the US to her knees. Could you imagine the 'black outs' on the Net with the sudden surge of usage?
    Jo Ann Rattey Hicks Moscow, Idaho

    Four people dead. A tragedy for those affected but to get things in proportion, how many more people have been killed and maimed in car accidents in the same time? The problem with these attacks is that they are almost impossible to completely protect against. The US sense of invincibility has been taken away. Billion dollar missile defence shields and stealth bombers are no protection. The rules have changed. I personally sympathise with the US but they need to wise up. Isolationism is no longer an option in a globalised world. We need to pressure Israel to give the Palestinians a break and take away the terrorists' excuses. Bombing the terrorists is only fighting the symptoms. Take away their support and the war will be short.
    George, Guildford, UK

    Wake up, world - this is an attack

    RJ, Portland, OR, USA
    Wake up, world - this is an attack. No matter that we are American. No matter that we may be the richest country in the world. We have been ruthlessly attacked and terrorised. Anthrax, while I don't particularly worry about contracting the bacteria, is simply a part of a continuing act of terrorism. It's cruel and insensitive to a whole nation to start blaming us for the murder of our own.
    RJ, Portland, OR, USA

    The connection between a terrorist meeting with an Iraqi agent and the letters, some of which, I recall, were sent on September 11, should be investigated more thoroughly.
    Peter, Helsinki, Finland

    It seems to me that the US may soon become a quarantine zone entirely. With anthrax turning up in diplomatic mail around the country, and with major sorting machines being shown to be infected it might only be a matter of time before spores turn up in many other places too. The death of the nurse in New York City, apparently unconnected with any of the other known incidences could just be the start of this. Anyone, or even any country, might reasonably begin to question whether to accept mail from the US.
    Philip Shaw, London, UK

    Let's not forget that there are a lot worse viruses out there

    Dave, Helsinki, Finland
    There is much speculation as to whether al-Qaeda is behind the recent anthrax attacks. Surely, if a group which can organise multiple simultaneous hijackings, were going to engage in bio-terrorism then they would use something a lot worse than anthrax ? Let's not forget that there are a lot worse viruses out there.
    Dave, Helsinki, Finland

    I might be one of the few people in the world with a lifetime immunity to anthrax. I got it at the age of 12 from my 4-H (farm youth club) orphan sheep in 1955. I still have a scar on my middle finger. It developed as far as the black circle on the skin which indicates necropsy of the tissue. I was given penicillin (just to add to my semi-monthly dose) I remember it as a cut that would not heal.

    Every antibiotic used frivolously increases the number of immune bacteria of all kinds. Growing up in the 50s I received penicillin often just to keep my mother quiet. The number of deaths caused by over-use of antibiotics and its subsequent antibiotic-resistant germs will make anthrax deaths pale by comparison.
    Roger Sheldon, Fair Oaks, California, USA

    Cannot mail to high risk addresses be sterilised - either by heat or radiation?
    Ian Fordham, Chelmsford, Essex

    I personally think this is some right-wing lunatic group. If it had been the work of those morons of the 11th of September, I think it would have been more deadly. What really impresses me is that the investigating authorities have not been able to find any clues whatsoever up till now on the big question: who dunnit. I compare this to the miraculous hijacker's passport found in the ruins of the WTC, surviving an explosion and an inferno that melted steel. Somebody tell me what's going on here?
    Theo Stauffer, Zurich, Switzerland

    The media are the terrorists

    Jamie, Texas, USA
    I think the media are the terrorists. They are trying to terrorize the population with this stupid anthrax.
    Jamie, Texas, USA

    The US, richest nation in the world, wants to overrule international patent law so it can make "Cipro" generic antibiotic cheaply (just to save some money). And why not? Five dead so far is a massive crisis. But when Africa wants to do this for HIV treatment (to alleviate its tiny, insignificant, Aids crisis), the US threatens to apply sanctions. And the US wonder why people the world over hate them? They are still breathtakingly selfish.
    David Griffin, Seattle (but from UK)

    There are many incurable diseases or infections throughout the world and we do know how to live with them or rather survive in the long run. A few attacks using deadly Anthrax cannot change the lifestyles of millions of people across the globe. We should not over-react to these temporary problems, as this will only lead to further pessimism. Prevention is better than cure and hence, the authorities must gear up for preventing further escalation of these attacks. Finally, a 'tit for tat' policy for those who are harbouring this menace of bioterrorism will considerably reduce the possibilities of the germ warfare.
    Mahesh Chandra Somani, Oulu, Finland

    In reply to Mahesh Chandra Somani. Well, they may not change the lifestyles of millions, but they would perhaps make those millions realize that these spores were developed and stockpiled by their own tax-money. Why were no whimpers heard when your elected governments stockpiled them? Probably because you felt your governments would use them, if at all, somewhere in the Middle East, and you yourselves would be protected. A dose of your own medicine!
    Arif Syed, Aligarh, India

    This is a deliberate attack on our freedoms

    Arran, Austin, Texas, USA
    I think everybody is missing the point here. Regardless of whether anthrax is particularly harmful, the fact is that is being used as a weapon, and people have died as a result of its use. This is not just some outbreak of foot and mouth that we're talking about. This is a deliberate attack on our freedoms. It is the same as a terrorist flying a plane into a building, only it's slower and maybe even more menacing. As long as it is being used as a weapon, anthrax is a real threat and the media should be all over it.
    Arran, Austin, Texas, USA

    This present situation, where attacks are so random and unpredictable, plays perfectly into the hands of those in the US government who have been yearning for years to cut civil liberties and eliminate dissent. It is fearful to see the numbers of people in the US who support the elimination of liberties in order to face an unseen enemy doing random acts.
    Jeff Granger Chicago, USA

    I cannot stop wondering why some Americans talk about their fears of losing civil liberties at a time like this. More than the threat from Anthrax people like Mr Jeff Granger, Chicago, USA, are afraid they'll have to give up a few minor benefits. Everything comes at a cost, and I do not think, a few sacrifices in return for a secure and happy life, is asking for too much.
    Ramesh, Hyderabad, India

    I agree with the person who said that the world has always been scary. It's certainly nothing new. What has always bothered me is that a lot of people seem to think that they are entitled to a safe and prosperous life by virtue of being born in a highly developed industrial nation. Contrary to what the financial companies would like us to believe, there are no guarantees of bright futures for the members of the "lucky club". The only thing we can do is to enjoy life as it comes and accept that we do not know the outcome of all this.
    Anna, Toronto, Canada

    Anthrax was lethal in the day and age it was envisioned as a weapon of mass destruction. As a weapon of mass destruction, it is effective, even though the 100 percent fatality rate thought to exist can no longer be substantiated. As a weapon of terror, it is not viable. Quantities of antibiotics suitable to treat small outbreaks far outweigh the actual need for them. Only when used in the large quantities originally envisioned is anthrax a threat, and the nations that possess this capability would not use anthrax out of fear of nuclear retaliation. World, calm down!
    Matthew Nowlin, Breckenridge, USA

    We have the medical technology to deal with the issue

    Helga, NY, USA
    The words Anthrax and Smallpox stir up primitive fear reactions which I think the States is now getting over. We have the medical technology to deal with the issue. Perhaps we ought to mail some back to Osama?
    Helga, NY, USA

    For us living in the Third World, Anthrax is not the issue. We still are striving for the clean air and water. In my opinion the people in West are overreacting, as there are more potential dangers lurking on their heads all the time. After the hype created by the media about Anthrax, my belief in "ignorance is bliss" has increased.
    Manzoor Ahmed, Karachi, Pakistan

    Anthrax is a non-contagious disease, easily cured by antibiotics. It's not a big, scary plague.
    Kathy Willsea, Caledonia, IL., USA

    The media needs to be VERY careful right now, both in the reporting of facts and in expressing opinion. The general public cannot cope with sensationalised stories and tends to have selective hearing in their interpretation. There is infinitely more chance of being knocked over by a car than being killed by terrorists, but the whole reason terrorists bother is because they are able to achieve often sheep-like reactions to their relatively minor actions.

    Furthermore, the more the media inflame anti-war sentiment by showing anthrax victims and refugees, the more chance the liberals have of getting their way. The perpetrators of Sep 11 were, quite simply, madmen and - whilst we value our ideals - we MUST NOT let our own concepts of 'fair play' become our Achilles Heel. Bowing to the terrorists by staying at home hiding will encourage them that there is reward in their actions.
    JB, Nr York, UK

    My country runs a very low risk of anthrax. However, I feel disgusted by the cowardly act of the terrorists.
    Xuan, Vietnam

    The media have over sensationalised this beyond belief

    Paul Weymes, Hull, UK
    I think one of the main concerns here regarding the anthrax, is that the media have over sensationalised this beyond belief. Every day we are faced with yet more horrifying headlines, "anthrax panic" and the like, then inside articles advising readers to remain calm as the real risk is minimal. Even the local paper here in Hull had a full front-page picture of a man in a gas mask. "Anthrax panic, gas masks sell out in Hull".. and the reality is that there are about two army surplus shops here, and they probably only have a few in stock... such articles only add to the anxiety people feel.
    Paul Weymes, Hull, UK

    Hundreds of people will die this winter, from a highly contagious, mutating virus that's been around for thousands of years. Because it's contagious, this virus is a far greater threat to your life than anthrax. It's called influenza. Have you had a flu jab this year? You haven't? Then why are you worried about anthrax and why don't the media make a fuss about flu? It's because anthrax is new, and because we don't understand it - and we get a vicarious thrill out of being frightened. Once a new threat becomes a familiar adversary, fear is replaced by contempt. The fact that comedians and cartoonists are already raising loud guffaws of hilarity out of the anthrax problem shows that this is already happening. Cheer up - you'll live!
    C.Bingham-Hunter, Bedford, England

    Its only value is in generating irrational fear

    Tom, Norwich, UK
    It seems a bit unreasonable to accuse the media of scare-mongering over anthrax. If people are stupid enough to believe everything they read or see on TV, they deserve to be scared. The public has the ultimate sanction, switch off or read something else. All you have to do to stay tolerably rational and relaxed is to find sources of information you trust, assume that all politicians know less than you (usually true), and above all, think for yourself. Anthrax is useless as a weapon of mass destruction. Its only value is in generating irrational fear.
    Tom, Norwich, UK

    I'm an American postal worker and we're all deeply saddened to hear of the deaths of two co-workers, and the illness of several others in an apparent anthrax attack in Washington D.C. We're working diligently on protecting both our employees and the public from this inhuman threat. We're also working hard to find and stop the perpetrators of this atrocity and bring them to justice. Personally I'm not to concerned about this new terror, I realize how extremely remote it is be exposed to this virus, even for postal employees, plus after September 11th I no longer consider myself a "civilian" in the war on terror but a target. Bin Laden and the Taleban should understand that there are people here who are quite prepared to die in defence of freedom
    Robert Dunn, Lincoln, USA

    No, Anthrax is not a worry at this time, since more people die from the flu each year. What is worrisome, is the idea that maybe a different method of spreading the disease can be perfected. Or perhaps, this is a test method of bio-terrorism for another, more horrifying disease such as smallpox.
    Rhonda Goldmann, Houston, USA

    To determine how Americans regard this, look at the interviews with exposed individuals on TV. Do you note that nearly all of them are calm and collected? It seems almost as if the media has had to go hunting in DC to find any upset congressional staffers or postal workers. Aside from those exposed the only group of people in America worried are those who work in the media. Life goes on, and in a way it's almost comforting to see that media sensationalism is alive and well. It shows that things are pretty much normal.
    Kyle, Seattle, USA

    The hype over anthrax has manifested itself into the private sector. People are calling police with reports of suspicious white powder seemingly every time they see it. At Emory University in Atlanta, police responded to a "suspicious white powder" in a student laundry room. Surprise! Officers found it to be laundry detergent. What are the world's citizens supposed to do when our nation's leaders have made the population fearful of their own laundry? I think the terrorists are winning.
    Barney Gimbel, Atlanta, GA, USA

    The anthrax scares all seem a little suss to me. Why would a terrorist organisation with millions of dollars to spare waste time producing a relatively harmless disease that is not contagious? I believe it is entirely possible the government could be behind this, not only to rally up support for its military action but more importantly, to use as an excuse to invade Iraq (which they are itching to do). Anyone that thinks the American Government is incapable of such behaviour is sorely mistaken. One just needs to take an in depth look at their behaviour in the past. It wouldn't be the first time they have lied, hoodwinked the public and fabricated evidence in order to justify certain military action.
    Nellie, New Zealand

    As an American, I feel we all need to calm down. By panicking and demanding antibiotics as well as the appearance of police everywhere we give the terrorists what they want. As an American, I worry more about getting mugged in the parking lot in the city I work in than I do about anthrax.
    Rebecca, USA

    There has definitely been a bit of hysteria in the US media over the anthrax threat; individual cases have been incessantly harped upon and misinformation has been constantly spread - but please give us a little leeway. We're not used to this pall of terrorism falling over our daily lives. Is there concern among the American public? Yes - I live in northern Alexandria (for those of you who don't know, that's just south of the Pentagon - my building shook from the blast), and most in this area at least know people working up on the Hill. I also grew up in Stafford County (the residence of the infected postal employee) and probably know his family indirectly. The fact is that we've all been affected, but for the most part there isn't anywhere near the level of rampant panic that CNN, etc. would have you believe.
    Corrine Russell, Alexandria, VA, USA

    My way of "managing fear" is to avoid any kind of optimism. I accept that the world is still as it always has been - namely, frightening and unsafe. Biological warfare has been practised intermittently ever since the Black Death, when besieging armies threw infected corpses over city walls. History is littered with massacres and disasters of much greater magnitude than those of September 11. Yet people never resigned themselves to living out their lives in terror and gloom. After a half-century of exceptional ease and security in the West, we may have to relearn the art of cheerful resignation.
    Alex C, London, UK

    The most effective way to generate terror in the minds of Americans and keep the media focused on the issue, is through threats of plague and pestilence. Take a stroll around any drug store in the US and you will get a glimpse into the psyche of the average American. Shelves packed with drugs, many of which are banned in Western Europe, to cover real and more importantly, imaginary illnesses. Americans are obsessed with their health so the threat of danger to it will send most citizens rushing to find a convenient drug to fix it.

    America is full of "worried well". Now, the media in America run 24/7 TV and radio. How is this paid for? Through advertising. Much of it paid for by pharmaceutical companies. How best to maintain sales, get the media, to stir up the "worried well" to get out there and buy buy buy their products. Wake up America. Find out the real stories. Widen your sources of information. Sub Sarahan Africa will lose millions of people in the next ten years through HIV/AIDS. Triple therapy drugs are only a dream to those suffering an unimaginable future, often because the drug companies will not let their countries produce them. Understand the real threat!
    David, Copenhagen

    If the scare-mongering media keeps raging on about the threat of chemical/biological attack the greater the chance of it been implemented by some 'third party'. The public should be made aware, but not scared to death by premature reporting.
    Ernest Stephenson, UK

    I believe that the individual attacks to the media are detracting from the larger debate. Although each incident deserves our sympathy and concern, single-issue media is tantamount to misinformation. As Professor Ormerod (below) rightly makes us consider, there is a danger in making assumptions. Maybe, stockpiling the Anthrax vaccine is like putting all your eggs in a weak basket. Caution without hysteria can be aided by broadsheet news, not tabloid speculation.
    Pat, Brighton, UK

    The chances of some kind of domestic (American) fanatic being responsible seems more likely

    Professor John Ormerod Oslo, Norway
    According to Alistair Cooke in his 'Letter from America', the American media said that only 3 or 4 countries would have the facilities for making the anthrax powder used in the various letters in the US. This is not true. If the information we have received is true, the anthrax in question is not at all sophisticated and hence easily curable by antibiotics. Therefore, the chances of some kind of domestic (American) fanatic being responsible seems more likely. Mr Bin Laden would do it in a more sophisticated away.
    Professor John Ormerod Oslo, Norway

    Your comments during the programme

    That person who said Australians are very afraid of anthrax is wrong in my experience- yes, there have been hoaxes, and yes there is a small threat to us - but the odds of being killed by anthrax are very small. I feel our newspapers are responsible and the tabloids and TV are living down to their usual level of stupidity - I don't believe Australians in general are worried.
    TMcLatchie, Australia

    This is very serious matter that cannot and should be taken lightly

    I don't think there has been an overreaction from the media. I am looking forward to installation of a device at offices and post-offices that can detect Anthrax spores in letter before they are opened. This is very serious matter that cannot and should be taken lightly; certainly our lifestyles are going to change as a result of this bio-terrorist.

    Firstly, Australia has had no anthrax attack - just scares! Secondly, we are looking to the Arab world for a source yet we have no evidence in fact in the USA the fear of terrorism has in the main come from within. Thirdly, unless we keep a balanced head and look at the issues we will get drawn into a racism row that will undermine any hope of future peace.
    Michael Menton, Melbourne Australia

    The people responsible for sending the parcels have achieved exactly what they wanted to do. By people panicking when they receive their mail, threats disrupting normality and the vast direction of funds towards acting on these parcels, the responsible party has effectively weakened the "civilized" world and disrupted normality.
    David Trethewey

    The greatest threat of Anthrax is that it will draw attention away from greater emerging threats.
    chris Sydney, Australia

    Whilst biological weaponry is a real threat, the greatest threat to society is fear itself.
    Brad Denniston

    I'm an Englishman studying in Boston and am not really worried about either anthrax or most biological weapon attacks. I imagine the terrorists killing themselves handling the chemical weapons before killing many of us.
    Mark Oldham, Boston

    The animals responsible for this terrorism are enjoying our running around in fear

    John Marra, USA
    The animals responsible for this terrorism are enjoying our running around in fear. All this talk of our fears and even those who say they are not afraid, are merely adding fuel to the terrorists' fire. Copycats are inevitable. We are helping to create them. We are also providing the terrorists with valuable tips and insights on what works and what doesn't work, and what they should do next. We need to reconsider how we deal with this.
    John Marra, Lincoln Park, Michigan - USA

    Anthrax has infected eight people so far, what kind of attack is that? Canada and the US are intending on breaking the drug company Bayer's drug patent on the anti-Anthrax drug in order to save money but both these countries stopped 3rd world countries from doing the same. Basically I'm sick of 1st world countries hypocrisy.
    Nick Pettefar, Germany/UK

    We are fortunate that it has just been anthrax rather crudely delivered. I dread to think that these people may have more virulent agents and the samples of anthrax we have seen are but a mild prelude.
    Kolya, Kenya

    Aren't you more likely to drown in your own bathwater than contract Anthrax?

    Kirsty, UK living in US
    Aren't you more likely to drown in your own bathwater than contract Anthrax? In fact, I believe you're more likely to win the lottery. Perhaps the winnings could be donated to the Red Cross in Afghanistan.
    Kirsty, UK living in US

    We should be prepared to protect ourselves from the possible biological/chemical terrorism. Does this mean we have to be paranoid about anything white and powderish, from flour to baby powder? No.
    Akira Tamura, Adelaide, Australia

    The US media seems to be doing absolutely everything it can to fan the flames of mounting mass paranoia, and lending in some cases quite uncritical support to a so called 'war' against an ill-defined enemy who we are repeatedly told is to be embodied as the single super-terrorist whose name has now become a household word.
    Maureen, Bermuda

    Your comments before we went ON AIR

    The use of anthrax as a weapon is not new. Canada, in the early 1940's, had a dedicated laboratory for its production. Winston Churchill even thought of using it to fill bombs to drop on Germany. Targeting the media with Anthrax is a brilliant ploy as it helps create mass hysteria. We are now entering a phase where a few people can genetically modify our sense of health security.
    Brian M., Quebec, Canada.

    I am amazed at the sensationalism of the media in this country

    David, Cincinnati, USA
    I am also amazed at the sensationalism of the media in this country (USA). Anthrax is found in almost all the world. Dead animals and unsanitary conditions propagate the disease. The form being spread is very primitive and almost always treatable. The media has done their job of getting ratings at the expense of inducing panic in the people of the world. For more information on Anthrax you can go to the Center for Disease Control website.
    David, Cincinnati, USA

    Why does "paulnuman" of the UK think that the US hasn't reported the bombing of the Red Cross building? Of course it's been reported! I wish people would concentrate on facts and quit writing what they "wish" was true. As for thinking that the US government has some need to drum up support for the war against terror by hitting people with anthrax, that's just silly. There's plenty of support in this country for the war; no need to kill our own citizens to drum up more support. What I do find interesting is the two extremes: the people who are scared to death of anthrax, and the people who say it's easily treated and nothing to worry about. In the middle is the reality: be careful, but don't go overboard. Go about your life, but don't think that anthrax is nothing to worry about either.
    Gloria, Houston, Texas, USA

    In response to Paulnuman: I hate to be the one to tell you this but the US media did report that a bomb hit a Red Cross warehouse in Afghanistan when it happened. So no, the US isn't using Anthrax reporting as a way to not report whats going on in Afghanistan
    Shannon, USA

    I think it's a good issue for the US administration to divert public opinion from the fighting in Afghanistan. Just look at the US media, they forgot to mention that US hit the Red Cross warehouse in Kabul.
    Paul Numan, London, UK

    There is this hysteria precisely because the attacks have been on the media; and as we all know when it is one of theirs┐
    luigi, UK

    Living well is the best antidote - and the best revenge.

    Yankee Jack, Ann Arbor, USA
    I recently talked in person with my US Congressional Rep. She was unconcerned about the so-called Anthrax attack via letters posted in New Jersey. When her staff were notified of the House closing - they were only anxious for as long as it took to realize they'd get three days off with pay. I concur - this is a terrorist tactic which need not be considered more than a nuisance by reasonable comparisons. The news media is making too much of this! They are doing the job of the terrorists! Living well is the best antidote - and the best revenge.
    Yankee Jack, Ann Arbor, USA

    To put the Anthrax scare in perspective, in the same time that seven people have got anthrax a local university (univ of wisconsin)has sent five times that number to the hospital with food poisoning.
    Julie Mills, Monona USA

    Two can play at this game! I believe it's high time that we gave the terrorists a taste of their own medicine. They want to send Anthrax to us, then once we've located where the threat is coming from, send it back to them. Only add some high quality lethal anthrax, place their original letter in a larger envelope, with the message: "Address unknown. Return to sender." Oh....and to really add salt to the wound write, "PS. Say hi to Osama for me."
    Ali Evans, Australia

    I find it fascinating that first the media was talking about the "what ifs" of biological warfare. They began with anthrax and hyping the vaccine. The next thing we knew people were being diagnosed with it. Now the subject is smallpox. When will the first case be diagnosed?
    Keegan, USA

    I find it difficult to believe, as the man from Reading suggests, that the us government is spreading anthrax in an effort to justify the continuing action against terrorism. They don't really need any more justification than sept 11.
    neil , sheffield, uk

    While people worldwide are being influenced by the threat of anthrax, perhaps we should be on the look out for one of histories worst killers and that is smallpox. Why is the US doubling its defences against smallpox if there isn't a real possibility or threat of perhaps a smallpox plague. Compared to smallpox, anthrax would seem as insignificant to the world's population as the measles.
    Calum Begg, Adelaide, Australia

    I am seriously considering ordering the antibiotic Cipro, just in case

    Californian, USA
    I am seriously considering ordering the antibiotic Cipro, just in case. I find myself wondering how long it would take for a test to be performed to determine whether I had been exposed to Anthrax. Perhaps someone should manufacture a Home Anthrax Test.
    Californian, USA

    Clearly enough to put America and the rest of the world off balance. In Trinidad earlier this week they had an anthrax scare, then here in Barabdos. It is not confirmed whether they are Anthrax or not, but regardless.
    Barry Lynch, Barbados

    I have worked in our university hospital for 21 years. Anthrax is nothing compared to Hepatitis, Hiv/Aids, VRE, ORSA,the flu season, heart disease, cancer, and a host of other natural illnesses to worry about, that a simple antibiotic will not heal.
    Rocco Mastrangioli, Rochester, USA

    Take a deep breath and repeat outloud the following words very slowly: Low Tech, Low Tech, Low Tech. If these guys had an efficient method to disperse this bacteria, they would have used it by now. Even if they come up with one their cover is blown and everyone is looking out for possible infections. The appropriate antibiotic is available if anyone is infected. Now take another deep breath and slowly repeat the following: we have the antibiotic, we have the antibiotic, we have antibiotic.
    Leslie, Galveston, TX

    It is my opinion that the antherax scare is self created only to divert the attention of the people from the war, for if the terrorists managed to kill 6000 people why would they care to scare people by making them sick.
    Anon, Pakistan

    The threat to society is very real. How else could somebody with a grudge and a box of soap powder bring major cities to a halt? As with much else it seems the fear is worse than the reality.
    Dave Tankard, UK

    The only way terrorists can strike is to catch us off guard

    Pat, Endicott USA
    I wonder what the terrorists are planning while our officials are busy worrying about Anthrax. The only way terrorists can strike is to catch us off guard. I think we are guarding against the wrong threat.
    Pat, Endicott USA

    As a great American once said "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself". More people are rushed to Casualty after being injured by carpets and stairs than by biological weapons. And I'm not about to get nervous about using stairs.
    Sarah, Reading, UK

    The cases of anthrax are more or less unsettling news. The so-called mass panic stems from the overdramatised news reports from the likes of CNN and BBC; there may be some alarm but not hysteria, as the news agencies would like to have it. However, I know what to do if I should ever come across a "suspicious" package.
    C.A. Baker, USA in Tilburg, Netherlands

    Would they surrender our mores to vile and despicable people?

    William Colley, Montpelier, USA
    A fellow named Anthony from Reading posts an opinion and suggests that the U.S. government is spreading anthrax to sow justification for its war. Infecting its own leaders? Are you daft? I would rather suggest that the ruthless bin Laden gang would be bombing villages and killing civilians and then claiming that the U.S. and Britain are responsible. Quite the shame that the lefties spin webs of conspiracy and condemn western culture. Would they surrender our mores to vile and despicable people?
    William Colley, Montpelier, USA

    Anthony of Reading, wake up. There is no lack of support here in the US for the government. Furthermore, fighting bio terrorism is very expensive and will hurt the US economy. As Clinton has said, "It's the economy, stupid," that lost the election for Bush's father. It took years and a bit of luck to find the Unabomber, and it will be difficult to find who is behind the Anthrax scare.
    Paul Kolb, College Park, MD, USA

    Is it not possible that in the light of growing public resentment for the war - that the US government itself is introducing anthrax in a controlled manner to rally public support and justify the continued war effort?
    Anthony, Reading, England

    Anthrax isn't that frightening but the realization that there are other nasty pathogens made as weapons is. On a side note: the people writing that this is some government conspiracy should go to Roswell and look for a downed spacecraft.
    Charles, US

    The only thing I fear right now is the ignorance and panic the 'anthrax scare' is causing. A thousand hysterical people frighten me far more than a disease that can be treated with antibiotics. Be aware, people, not paranoid.
    Psioncat, USA

    I think it would be wise for everybody to take due caution

    Brooks Groves, Seattle, Washington
    I work in an environment where I come across all manner of packages to important people everyday. To think that I could become exposed to Anthrax, just by association, makes me JUST, a little concerned. I think it would be wise for everybody to take due caution, in these trying times. It's the 1% that gets you, as I understand it.
    Brooks Groves, Seattle, Washington

    I have not seen any panic. Have not heard of anyone who is afraid (except in the media). Most people are going about their business. Most people I know are more concerned about the bombs we are dropping on Afghanistan, and the lack of success we seem to be having with the humanitarian relief. As for the House dismissing early, it seemed like a rational thing to do.
    Amy, Chicago, USA

    Anthrax is doing the job that the terrorists want

    Sharon, Baltimore USA
    Anthrax can be cured if it is caught early enough, but it is doing the job that the terrorists want. The House of Representatives shut down because of anthrax. How many other places had to shut down because of it? Anthrax is disrupting our lives. I can't even find out what is happening in the rest of the world, I have to come to the BBC web site or the Times UK to learn what's going on elsewhere. Our news media only talks about anthrax and bombing now. I know there is other news in this world and I miss hearing about it. I hope and pray to God that no other country experiences the pain of having 6000 people killed in 20 minutes.
    Sharon, Baltimore USA

    Regarding Anthony in Reading's statements: Oh brilliant deduction. The number 1 priority of my government prior to the attacks in September was getting the economy back on track. All this has done is send shockwaves through any progress they were working towards. The last thing the government would do now is start their own internal biological attacks. How in the world would that jumpstart the economy?? Americans don't need tragedy to rally us. We are naturally patriotic and protective of our country, and our government, who themselves are ordinary citizens, know this.
    Suzanne, U.S.A.

    There is no mass hysteria in this country over Anthrax

    James, Pittsburgh PA USA
    There is no mass hysteria in this country over Anthrax, although our news media is trying their best to create hysteria. I just wonder what they will talk about when 20,000 Americans will die this year from the flu (versus just one from anthrax). I find it fascinating that T.V. news tells us even more people could be killed if the terrorists would do it "like this". I believe in freedom of speech but our news media will cause more harm than good. They give ideas, why not just report news? I wonder if the day will ever come that someone will hold the media liable if some idea they spread ever happens. Rest assured, I will!
    James, Pittsburgh PA USA

    I believe Americans have a lot of resolve and determination to put this "bio-terrorism" in right perspective. I see people more pre-occupied by uncertainties about the economy and job security than about anthrax. Sure, people are vigilant and alert, but not in panic. It's business as usual - even Bush has returned to business, making a trip to China to bolster economic relationships between countries.
    Ishrat Jehan, Dallas, Texas

    If you open a suspect letter report it, get antibiotics and you will be fine

    C Wright, UK
    I would like to point out to Bob from the West Midlands that to date Anthrax has in fact proved to be a very ineffective weapon. So far it has been deployed 3 times in the US and one person has died. If you open a suspect letter report it, get antibiotics and you will be fine. People seem to forget it is a treatable infection and that the current method of dispersal is likely to lead to very few deaths, as telling someone they have been exposed to Anthrax at the time of exposure almost ensures affective treatment.
    C Wright, UK

    I am very concerned about what is happening concerning anthrax. It is a simple but highly effective deadly terrorist weapon. Everybody is at risk. People are being very cautious about opening their mail right now and we shouldn't have to be. The fact that it is so easy and discrete makes it so deadly. The sick terrorists who are spreading the anthrax have us where they want us and other deadly biological and chemical weapons could be on the way. I think this new kind of biological war will get out of control and a lot of people will suffer.
    Bob, West Midlands, UK

    I'm worried I won't get my usual daily fix of real news because the media are hysterical about anthrax.
    Martin, England

    A deadly biochemical weapon that can be cured by antibiotics? Oooh I'm scared! Better to sneeze on a letter and hope the recipient catches a cold...
    Chris, UK

    A large proportion of the media seek to generate the panic and uncertainty that they seem to think already exists on the streets

    David Peach, London, UK
    The media should take more responsibility and STOP speculating, STOP using words that over-dramatise and concentrate on the facts. It becomes more and more obvious as this serious situation unfolds that a large proportion of the media seek to generate the panic and uncertainty that they seem to think already exists on the streets. I do not underestimate the serious nature of these biological attacks but let's put them into perspective and report the facts.
    David Peach, London, UK

    What's to stop anyone spreading this disease in fireworks bought in shops?

    Brian Roberts, UK
    News reports on television and newspapers suggest that anthrax can be placed in a rocket/bomb warhead. What's to stop anyone spreading this disease in fireworks bought in shops? With the many shops selling them now in the run-up to Guy Fawkes' night, shouldn't they be banned on safety grounds?
    Brian Roberts, UK

    Anthrax is not dangerous - the government assures us that it is non-contagious and unlikely to infect many people. This is the same government that tells us that MMR does not lead to autism, that foot-and-mouth was under control in June and that Public Private Partnership is the best solution for the Tube.
    Karl Peters, UK

    Can anyone explain why the Australian Government and public is making such a big thing about bio-chemical warfare attacks on its major cities? Correct me if I am wrong but Australia is the last place that is likely to be targeted so why are people here rushing out to by gas masks? Answer: because as usual, Australia hates to feel as though they being left out of anything.
    S Thomas, Adelaide, Australia

    Terrorists...ought never to be underestimated as to their intelligence

    Robert Morpheal, Canada
    Obsession with anthrax and its dangers might obscure the multitude of other deadly, disruptive, and costly dangers that terrorist attacks might bring upon anywhere in the world. There are many potential germ and chemical weapons other than anthrax that could be the next method of attack. People learn how to be mindful of anthrax, and how to deal with it and cope. Terrorists also learn, except they tend to learn to devise new tactics, and ought never to be underestimated as to their intelligence even if it is an uncivilized, psychopathic, brutal intelligence.
    Robert Morpheal, Canada

    Do ordinary people really think they're so important that terrorists would take the time and effort to write and post letters to them?

    M M Zaman,
    UK in US
    I find it rather disturbing at the growing number of paranoid people who immediately call the authorities because they suspect Anthrax laced mail - I can understand that politicians and celebrities may be targets for the terrorists, but do ordinary people really think they're so important that terrorists would take the time and effort to write and post letters to them?
    M M Zaman, UK in US

    How worried? Not in the slightest. One person dead - more people die of flu every day. The only people who seem to be panicking are the editors of the more down-market papers in the UK.
    S, UK

    Whoever has done this has accomplished scaring a lot of people

    Melinda Kohn, Columbus, OH, USA
    I think our government and emergency workers are doing everything that is possible to do in reacting to anthrax. In light of how many people have been exposed to anthrax and how large the US population is - whoever has done this has accomplished scaring a lot of people. People in the US are starting to realize that we can't allow terror and fear to overcome us and a lot of us feel we should go on as we have always done. Perhaps more aware; but we'll go on.
    Melinda Kohn, Columbus, OH, USA

    Cannot agree more with Phil, Chicago. Myself, and none of the people I meet on a daily basis are scared of the anthrax thing. We are more concerned about the economy, the jobless rate and the recession. Our media is scaring the hell out of the investors, adding to the bad situation already existing. Just stick to the facts and stop the scare mongering. Leave the analysis to the experts.
    S.H.Mohsin, USA

    I don't know of anyone who is scared because of these occurrences

    Michael, USA
    We have a much greater chance of being killed in an automobile accident than of being harmed by terrorist activity. That doesn't stop us from getting in our cars every day. We don't even think about the possibility that something could happen to us on the road. We can't allow the possibility that some harm may befall us to cause us to hide from life. That's not to say we shouldn't have our guard up against people who intend to hurt us. Anyone who doesn't put his guard up when someone is about to hit him is a fool, but doing so doesn't mean he's scared. The news industry consistently uses weighted words such as "scare" and "panic" in reporting anthrax incidents. I don't know of anyone who is scared because of these occurrences. To the news industry I can only say when there's news, let us know. When we're scared, WE'LL let YOU know.
    Michael, USA

    Hello from Texas. I'm fine. Went to work, was not infected with anthrax from any source - home or abroad, no planes crashed into me, none of my fellow citizens shot at me. Went to the store, but completely forgot to buy cat litter. I also need new tyres for my wheelchair. I'll do that tomorrow. Such is life in wartime.
    MMG, Land of the Great Satan

    I hope those who argued that the UN weapons inspectors should be pulled out of Iraq two years ago are now ashamed of themselves. Either the high-quality anthrax used in the US attacks was stolen from a western research lab, or produced covertly in a sophisticated facility maintained by a government that has a track record of using chemical and biological weapons. If the DNA profile of this anthrax indicates that it comes from a non-western source, then the UN must immediately insist that its weapons inspectors are given full access to all of Iraq's facilities to ensure the means of production of these, and other weapons are dismantled immediately. For Iraq to refuse this would be tantamount to an admission of guilt. This is no longer a question of politics or sanctions - Russia and France must step back from their previously pro-Iraqi position and back calls for the UN weapons inspectors to be allowed back in immediately.
    Andrew, London, UK

    Life is just too damned random to spend our time worrying. In his Letter From America last weekend, Alistair Cooke told the world that there was something like a one out of 100,000 chance of becoming a victim of a terrorist attack. I'd love to talk to the mathematician who made this estimate. How can this be calculated or estimated accurately? Personally, since I get around on a mountain bike, I'm probably more likely to get run over by a motorcar than die of pulmonary anthrax.
    Ze'ev, California, USA

    I work at a national newspaper situated in the tallest building in Britain. Am I scared? Nope, because I sadly have a job so I can't sit around worrying all day. I've got better things to do with my time than worry about death.
    Graham, London, UK

    It's almost like seeing the foot and mouth crisis through the eyes of a cow or sheep. We're very vulnerable, and there's little that can be done once we have it.
    Alex Banks, UK/Ireland

    I'm not sure if I agree with the foot and mouth comment made by Alex Banks, but then I disagree with the way the that crisis was handled. But foot and mouth is a non-fatal disease treated by culling. Anthrax does its own dirty work and human slaughter is somewhat less pleasant for us.
    Alisdair McDonald, Edinburgh, Scotland

    The world has been held to ransom by a lunatic fundamentalist and a microscopic germ

    Duncan Skeels, UK
    Unfortunately the terrorists have been handed a victory by the world's media. With all the speculation surrounding possible anthrax attacks prior to the first recorded case in Florida, the seeds for the present spate of attacks and hoaxes were sown in the minds of the murderous perpetrators. Bin Laden and his network do not have to do anything else. Especially as any further high profile bomb attacks like the September 11 atrocities would only give the coalition more credibility in the Middle East. This is truly wonderful, the world has been held to ransom by a lunatic fundamentalist and a microscopic germ.
    Duncan Skeels, UK

    Anthrax is treatable and can be prevented by vigilance in how it's handled. So it's not really a cause for concern. Moreover there is no evidence that it is a weapon of mass destruction.
    Netar, UK

    It is sickening to hear about anthrax all the time. I hear very little about what kind of sickness it is or what the symptoms are. All I've heard is that it has affected the big shots - American Media, ABC and more recently the Houses of Congress. One will never know whether it is a conspiracy to divert public attention from American failure to win the battle in Afghanistan in a short time or just another news substitute for the Gary Condit scandal. It is hard to believe that it cannot be controlled or that the source or origin cannot be found. This only casts doubts over whether it is a creation of those who cannot find it or if it really is a terrorist threat.
    Habib Hemani, USA

    I'm 43 and have never experienced a threat of this magnitude to our land

    CJT, USA
    I'm not scared about anthrax, but I am worried about what could be next - for example, small pox. The anthrax-laced letters have been successful as a form of psychological warfare. The events beginning September 11 are starting to depress me. For the first time in my life, I have a glimpse of the conditions that people in other countries live under. I'm 43 and have never experienced a threat of this magnitude to our land. I'm very disappointed in our politicians and corporations that have contributed to these recent events. So many politicians were cautioned about the threat of terrorist attacks and were even told how to reduce the impact or prevent them from occurring altogether. I've almost completely lost trust in our politicians.
    CJT, USA

    Since the only places that have been hit by anthrax are government buildings and a couple of newsrooms I have nothing to fear. This is America. I have a greater chance of getting robbed or killed walking down the street. This is what most Americans have to fear. Unless you live in Beverly Hills.
    Samantha, USA

    Call me cynical, but it sure was interesting that the Americans first announced that the Anthrax was weapons grade, only to retract this statement later on. More interesting, however, is the fact that only two countries actually have the facilities to produce this in a powder form - one nation being Russia and the other, the USA itself, with the others only able to produce Anthrax in liquid form. Oh dear, looks like the war PR department blundered there.
    John McVey, Scotland

    Anthrax is a disease like any other. If you get sick you see a doctor and get cured. I am much more worried about being mugged than by a bacterium we can easily fight. The man in America who died was very unlucky, but now that people are on the lookout for anthrax there is little to worry about. Remember only one person in all the billions on earth has died of it. How many people will be killed in car accidents today?
    Olly, England

    As a nurse the most important thing for me is people's health, especially anyone who has been infected by Anthrax. Secondly, I'm not for or against any kind of war, so I don't agree with terrorism but the USA's bombing of Red Cross Camps and civilian houses was intolerable.
    Sara, Spain

    I'm not very concerned as in India we are susceptible to all kinds of odds. No real and effective protection exists, but God Almighty's grace.
    Rokny Pio, India

    What I am really concerned about with the continuing anthrax attacks is: where is it all coming from? Countries that stock military grade anthrax are known. It should be relatively easy to ask for and receive samples to compare them to the types sent by post in the USA. This will then identify the source of the anthrax. The next worry is what the US and their alliance partners will do if one country does not provide a sample. Take this as an admission of guilt? The final worry is what the response will be if Iraq is identified as the source. Attacks with biological weapons of mass destruction could lead to a big glow in the sky.
    SKA, Germany

    My biggest concern is with those who are taking advantage of the troubles of September 11 to carry out hoaxes. Those who spread anthrax should be punished and those who make hoaxes should be given lengthy prison sentences without the possibility of parole.
    Roberto Alvarez-Galloso, Miami, Florida, USA

    Terrorists are experts at spreading hate and prejudice. I fear that the anthrax attacks, as well as the hoaxes are going to prove very effective at this.
    Jerome, USA

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    'I don't feel scared'
    Harriet Anderson, Washington
    'The press are frightening people'
    Rick Jamieson, UK
    'It can be cured'
    Alan Bridges, Florida
    'Smallpox is more of a worry'
    Claire Mallon, UK
    'We should have to register all mail'
    Jill Bromley, China
    'I get more paranoid when I look at the media'
    Ishrat Jehan, US
    'We need to look at the causes of this terrorism'
    Vincent Chew, China

    Talking PointFORUM
    War censorship
    Ask author Phillip Knightley about media coverage
    See also:

    19 Oct 01 | Americas
    US seeks to calm anthrax fears
    16 Oct 01 | Health
    UK stockpiles anthrax antibiotics
    15 Oct 01 | Health
    Q&A: Anthrax infection
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