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12:45 PM Thu, Nov. 15th

Health officials distribute anthrax information

Despite recent incidents of anthrax-contaminated letters sent through the mail, anthrax cases are still extremely rare in the United States, say health care officials.

"The chances of anthrax making its way here are very, very rare because we are such a small community," said Carleen Shelton, infection control practitioner at Kingman Regional Medical Center.

But in spite of the rarity, Shelton distributed information about anthrax to the Kingman Police Department, the Kingman Fire Department, the Arizona Department of Public Safety and emergency room personnel at the hospital Monday.

In view of recent cases of anthrax throughout the country, the Mohave County Health Department also issued a statement Monday: "Although there is little the Health Department can do to prevent bio-terrorism, we are working closely with the Arizona Department of Health Services.

Our public health system is on a heightened sense of alert for any diseases that may come from a biological attack."

The health department also stated that in the event of a public health emergency, local and state health departments will inform the public about the actions individuals need to take.

"Information among components of the public health system will continue to be shared so we can make an early diagnosis and respond as quickly as possible to any potential problems," continued the statement.

Shelton said the manufactured powder form of anthrax that has been found in envelopes recently is designed to cause harm through inhalation.

Anthrax can also be contracted through exposure to infected animals such as cattle, sheep, goats and antelopes.

Spores (the offspring of the organism) can survive in soil for years.

"But we haven't seen anthrax from animals in the United States in years," Shelton said.

Humans can become infected by coming into contact with spores through the skin, mucous membranes or respiratory tract.

"What we are seeing now is manufactured anthrax," she said.

"Inhalation of anthrax poses the greatest risk.

The bacteria grow in the small air sacks in the lung, called alveoli."

Shelton said initial symptoms, resembling that of a common cold or the flu, usually occur within three to seven days.

Lung damage and possible brain infection follow.

If not treated in time inhaling anthrax can be fatal.

"Even if someone has been exposed to anthrax, receiving the appropriate antibiotics before symptoms develop can prove effective," she said.

"There is also a vaccine for inhaled anthrax that has proven to be 93 percent effective, but it is mostly for military personnel."

She added that the hospital does not have the vaccine, or the antibiotic, although they "could get it, if needed."

Shelton advises caution when opening parcels and letters, and said gas masks will not provide significant protection against inhaled anthrax.

"Be careful when opening mail.

If something looks suspicious don't touch it or breathe it.

Just leave the room and shut the door." Shelton said.

"Call local law enforcement and they will do whatever is deemed necessary.

If anyone is exposed we will test them."

Direct person-to-person spread of anthrax is extremely unlikely.

Vaccination for anthrax is not recommended and the vaccine is not available to healthcare providers or the general public, according to health department officials.