Less than half of the people who were prescribed a 60-day course of antibiotics for anthrax during last year’s attacks completed the treatment, and a majority complained of side effects, federal officials reported Tuesday.
Many postal workers, Senate office workers and media employees possibly exposed to anthrax reported mild side effects from the antibiotics, including stomach pain, nausea, headaches and dizziness. A few required hospitalization.
Despite the problems, Dr. Colin Shepard of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the effectiveness of antibiotics during the attacks was “reassuring” because most of the side effects were mild.
“Adverse events were commonly reported, but serious adverse events were rare,” Shepard said.
“I’m gratified how effective the (treatment) seemed to be,” said Dr. Stephen Ostroff, deputy director of the CDC’s National Center for Infectious Diseases. “No one put on it developed anthrax.”
Last fall, five people died and 13 others were made ill by inhalation anthrax that was found in mail or mail processing facilities in Washington, New York, New Jersey, Florida and Connecticut. Federal officials provided antibiotic tablets to 10,000 people.
Not surprisingly, officials found that people were more likely to stick to the program if they thought they were exposed to the potentially deadly bacteria.
Nearly 6,200 of the 10,000 people were interviewed by federal officials. About 57 percent, 3,032 people complained of at least one side effect and only 44 percent,2,712 people finished the treatment.
Officials were surprised by the number of people reporting side effects. Ciprofloxacin typically results in adverse reactions in just 16.5 percent of users, while the other antibiotic used, doxycycline, typically has even fewer side effects.
The antibiotics kill anthrax bacteria that are released from anthrax spores that germinate inside the body. Animal studies have shown the spores can stay in the body up to 58 days.
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