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Tuesday, 16 October, 2001, 09:46 GMT 10:46 UK
Police urge anthrax vigilance
Pharmacy shelf
There is a growing demand for the antibiotic Cipro
The public have been warned to be on their guard against the threat from anthrax following a series of incidents in the United States.

The Home Office said there was no intelligence to suggest there was a "specific threat" to Britain from biological or chemical attack.

But a Scotland Yard spokeswoman urged people to be "vigilant".

On Tuesday morning a sorting office in Liverpool was evacuated after white powder fell out of a package. The substance is being tested.

Anthrax specimen
Only those involved in a specific incident would be tested
City of London Police are also checking a suspicious package at the Stock Exchange.

A Metropolitan Police spokeswoman said: "If people are suspicious of anything they have received in the mail or by hand they should contact police.

"The police will advise and them. We have asked people to be vigilant."

Meanwhile the government is stockpiling antibiotics to treat anthrax as it prepares to reveal its contingency plans for tackling bioterrorism.

Later this week guidelines drawn up by the Department of Health and the Home Office are to be sent to the NHS and local authorities advising them what to do in the event of an anthrax attack .

If people are suspicious of anything they have received in the mail or by hand they should contact police.

Scotland Yard spokeswoman
A baby boy and a 73-year-old man are the latest to be infected with anthrax in the US.

Packages have been sent to two media groups, one in Florida and one in New York, and to a leading senator in Washington DC.

Three people have been tested in Britain, after working in the US buildings where spores were detected. They are still awaiting results.

'Don't panic'

UK Government officials are keen to avoid panic.

Postal workers are in the frontline and Dave Joyce, chairman of the health safety committee of the Communication Workers' Union, said officials were trying to avoid panic within the Royal Mail.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Members are being briefed and given adequate information and instruction as to the risk posed by anthrax, and what they should do if a suspect package is encountered... or possibly broken open by accident."

On Tuesday staff at the BBC were also sent an internal e-mail advising what them to do if they received a suspect package.

The "precautionary" missive warned staff to beware of packages, especially if they were unexpected and "appeared to contain powder or other unusual contents".

The government's Chief Medical Officer, Professor Liam Donaldson, sought to reassure the public.

'We're well prepared'

He said: "We're very well prepared...we have one of the best public health systems in the world."

The Public Health Laboratory Service has already updated its advice on how to deal with a deliberate attempt to spread anthrax.

Guidance includes the importance of sealing off what the PHLS calls "the exposed zone" if anthrax spores are found and decontaminating everyone present.

Any infected people would need to take antibiotics for up to eight weeks.

Professor Liam Donaldson
Professor Liam Donaldson say the UK is "well prepared"
Some UK GPs have reported patients coming in worried that they have the disease.

But a spokeswoman for the British Medical Association said all they would do was reassure the patients they were very unlikely to have it.

Pharmacies in the US report being swamped with demands for the antibiotic Cipro, which can be used to treat cutaneous (skin) anthrax.

But members of the public trying to take their own preventative measures in the UK are likely to be frustrated.

A spokeswoman for Bayer, which makes the drug, told BBC News Online it is available only on prescription in the UK - and not licensed for anthrax anyway.

A range of alternative antibiotics are used - but again these are available only on prescription.

Anyone asking their doctor for a vaccine is also going to be disappointed.

Even private practitioners cannot offer it to patients as it is not recommended for the general public, not produced commercially and cannot be purchased.

Dr Rosemary Leonard, GP
"This is an imminently treatable disease"

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See also:

25 Sep 01 | UK
Is the UK prepared?
16 Oct 01 | Americas
Two new anthrax cases hit US
13 Oct 01 | Health
Doctors given anthrax advice
12 Oct 01 | Health
Anthrax: A widespread threat?
10 Oct 01 | UK Politics
Anthrax fears played down
15 Oct 01 | Health
Q&A: Anthrax
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