By Dr. Christopher Kent
Recent reports of the spread of anthrax through letters, has resulted in many questions from the chiropractic community. It has been said, “knowledge is the antidote for fear.” It is essential that the real issues be placed in proper perspective, so that effective strategies for processing the recent events may be implemented.
Life without fear
According to an editorial in the October 20, 2001 issue of the British Medical Journal, the mere threat of anthrax may be far worse that the possibility of physical illness. The authors wrote, “The ostensible purpose of chemical and biological weapons is to endanger lives. Biological agents, however, are particularly ineffective as military weapons…Instead, chemical and biological weapons are quintessentially weapons of terror…The purpose of these weapons is to wreak destruction via psychological means — by inducing fear, confusion, and uncertainty in everyday life.” (1)
This is precisely what terrorists hope to achieve, and media reports suggest that they are achieving some success. People are purchasing antibiotics from pharmacies or over the Internet. One entrepreneur is selling autoclaves to steam sterilize letters for $2,770. Offices of the Senate and House of Representatives have been closed.
As one author noted, “People are much more afraid of exotic, seemingly uncontrollable risks like anthrax than they are of familiar ones like flu (which kills more than 20,000 Americans each year).” (2)
As with any infectious illness, not everyone exposed to an organism gets sick. D.D. Palmer, the discoverer of chiropractic, asked an important question. He wanted to know how one man was sick and one was well when both, worked at the same job, in the same shop, at the same bench, while living in the same house, and eating the same food. (3)
The difference was not the bacterial or viral agent, but the patient.
The key to health is to maintain your physical, mental, and social well-being.
What are the facts? Most people are surprised to learn that anthrax is not considered contagious. It is not transmitted from person to person by droplets through the air. Anthrax is a disease of animals, particularly cattle, sheep, goats, and other herbivores. The organism associated with anthrax is a bacterium, Bacillus anthracis. This organism develops a spore form, which can live in soil for years. Anthrax is transmitted to humans by skin contact, inhalation, or ingestion. (4)
Anthrax is also known as “woolsorter’s disease,” because it is seen in mill workers. Wool sorters inhale 150 to 700 anthrax spores continually without danger. It has been suggested that about 10,000 spores are necessary to start an infection by inhalation. (5)
How likely are you to contract anthrax? The recent anthrax cases are very few in number. Prior to these, in the United States, there have been only 18 cases of inhalation anthrax in the 20th century and none since 1978. As one official stated, “One death, one easily treated rash, and seven symptom-free people with anthrax spores in their noses or antibodies in their blood are hardly what experts expected from terrorists wielding a bioweapon.” (As of this writing, the count is 3 deaths and 11 cases). Furthermore, making effective weapons using anthrax has been described as “hugely difficult.” (2)
What’s the risk?
Only a handful of letters have tested positive for anthrax. To put this in perspective, the Postal Service handles 680 million pieces of mail per day.
Let’s compare (6,7) some yearly causes of death in the United States:
- Adverse drug reactions — 106,000
- Accidents — 90,140
- Medical malpractice — 80,000
- HIV/AIDS — 41,930
- Lightning strikes — 100
*** ANTHRAX — 3
In short, taking medicine, driving a car, HIV/AIDS, and being struck by lightning are far more likely to kill you than anthrax.
Anthrax vaccine, of questionable efficacy, is not available. The sole manufacturer of this highly controversial product has been cited for numerous violations, and is currently unable to provide it. If it could, the vaccine would go the military.
The current hysteria over anthrax is being used to promote childhood vaccines, and influenza vaccine for adults. These vaccines DO NOT provide (or even claim to provide) any protection against anthrax or other biological agents associated with terrorism.
So what should we do? Ignore the risk and hope it goes away? No. Here are some tips:
1. DO NOT stockpile antibiotics. Antibiotics may have serious side effects. As Dr. Tim Johnson of ABCnews wrote, “Taking continual antibiotics is medically stupid. It is dangerous to take antibiotics on a continuing basis, both in terms of short-term and long-term side effects, including the development of antibiotic resistance.” (8) Antibiotics should be reserved for the very few cases where they are deemed medically necessary, and should not be taken without informed consent and physician supervision.
2. In the extremely unlikely event you receive a suspicious letter or package, report it. If there is suspicious powder, do not touch or inhale it.
3. DO acknowledge your fears. Empower yourself with knowledge. Do not let the terrorists rob you of the joys of life.
4. DO maintain your health with regular chiropractic care, good nutrition, exercise, and a positive attitude.
1. Wessely S, Hyams KC, Bartholomew R: “Psychological implications of chemical and biological weapons.” British Medical Journal 2001;323:878.
2. Begley S, Isikoff M: “Anxious about anthrax.” Newsweek. October 22, 2001. Beginning on page 28.
3. Palmer DD: “The Chiropractor’s Adjuster.” Portland Printing House. 1910.
4. “What you need to know about anthrax.” HealthScout. 10/18/01.
5. Milloy S: “Concerns vs. chaos in the anthrax scare.” Foxnews.com. 10/12/01.
6. Kalb C: “When drugs do harm.” Newsweek. April 27, 1998. Page 61.
7. Public Citizen. May/June 1994.
8. Johnson T: “Anthrax considered.” Abcnews.com. 10/11/01.
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