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Anthrax Drug Blamed For Lingering Ailments

Oct 20, 2002 | Palm Beach Post

For some American Media employees, veterans of last year's agonizing anthrax scare, it isn't over yet.

A very small number of people say they continue to suffer physical problems that are both persistent and perplexing. They attribute those discomforts to the drug they were given to fight possible anthrax poisoning Cipro a product of the Bayer Corp.

In fact, some have decided that the medicine has posed more of a threat to them than the malady a claim challenged by some doctors involved in the crisis and by the company. But the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta is concerned enough that it is in the middle of a two-year study of people who took anthrax antibiotics.

"I think the stuff is horrible and wish I hadn't taken anything," says a 45-year-old mother of two who still works at AMI and asked that her name not be used. "Ten days into taking it, I got pains in my right foot, and then it started in my left Achilles tendon. I stopped taking it after 20 days, but in all the months since I haven't taken a step that I didn't feel it."

Computer technician Rick Stonecypher was working at AMI as a contract employee last October when anthrax was discovered in the Boca Raton building, and he took Cipro as recommended by county health authorities.

"I've had respiratory problems ever since," he says, adding that his doctors have him taking Allegra, an over-the-countermedicine for allergies that he never needed before.

Jill Perel, wife of David Perel, editor of AMI's The National Enquirer, suffered severe illness after taking Cipro, including vomiting, major muscular pain and pounding headaches, and had to be hospitalized. She stopped taking it after seven days.

"I figured it would be easier to die of anthrax," she said recently, although she has now recovered fully.

"But there are employees who have suffered more than I have," Perel says. "I know there are people, especially those who are very physically active, who've had problems. It seems the more physically active a person is, the more problems they've had and some of them run marathons."

None of those interviewed hesitated to take the Cipro when it was offered, and they all signed releases freeing county health authorities of responsibility.

'We were all flipped out'

The releases were requested because, with fears of bioterrorism growing among federal officials, Cipro was approved in 2000 for treatment of anthrax poisoning, but it had to be done without testing on humans because there were no anthrax victims to test it on.

"I don't really know what I signed. We were all flipped out," says the mother of two. "I would have signed to take poison, that's how afraid we were."

Stonecypher agrees. He was asked to provide a verbal release, which was taped.

"I would have said anything to know what was happening to me," he says.

According to the CDC, 1,132 people who either worked for AMI, were related to employees, had been in the building in the previous 60 days or worked at post offices that processed AMI mail took antibiotics. Most 86 percent were put on Cipro, two 500 mg doses per day, and the recommended duration was 60 days. The others including children and pregnant women were given either amoxicillin or doxycycline, also antibiotics, and were also placed on 60-day regimens. Cipro is not approved for children or pregnant women because clinical testing showed cartilage and tendon damage in immature rats.

A study by the CDC released this month revealed that of 5,343 people studied who took the anthrax antibiotics last year not only in Florida but in New York, New Jersey and Washington, D.C. 57 percent reported adverse side effects while they were taking the drugs. Almost all were minor, with the most common being nausea, vomiting, headaches and dizziness, but some also suffered tendinitis, fainting spells and seizures. Sixteen percent of those people, including Jill Perel, were sick enough to require medical attention.

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