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Officials say anthrax education needed

An underlying sense of national worry over bioterrorism hit home on Sunday with an scare at the Pine Grove Store.

The incident began shortly before 1 p.m. when an employee opened a roll of quarters which were coated with white powder. Store owner Mark Phillips said the $2 in coins may have come from a customer and been intended as a hoax, but no one is certain of their exact origin.

Concerns over white powders in the mail has arisen amid reports of anthrax cases in New York and Florida over the past week. In response, numerous instances of white powder have caused alarm nationally -- including one in Lake Oswego Saturday that turned out to be flour poured on the streets to mark a running race course.

In Pine Grove, the concern was over the potential danger of an unknown powder.

Although Ellen Larsen, Hood River County health director, believes the substance was harmless she said all four employees at the business will be monitored for the next 10 days to detect if they develop the flu-like symptoms that signal the onset of Anthrax.

She joins other local officials in the belief that the incident has highlighted the need to launch a public awareness campaign.

As part of that effort, a special meeting was held on Monday to brief the county's emergency responders on the correct response to calls regarding a potentially deadly disease, a threat in Oregon that both the state health department and FBI officials believe is unlikely.

"Hood River public agencies are taking steps to ensure citizen safety," said Police Chief Tony Dirks.

Larsen said many people do not know that anthrax is a bacteria that cannot be spread from person-to-person. It is commonly found in the soil and carried by animals, a disease that ranchers and farmers have long been familiar with and which is treatable.

She said anthrax comes in two forms: respiratory, which can be fatal if left untreated, and cutaceous, which often manifests as a skin rash that is non-lethal.

The primary key to prevent the disease, according to Larsen, is simply to wash your hands well if you suspect you have touched a suspicious substance. She said during that practice it is important to use lukewarm water -- hot water chaps hands and makes them susceptible to bacteria -- and good friction while scrubbing.

"Washing your hands with soap and water is the best thing you can do to prevent any exposure to disease," said Larsen.

She said that action will slough off the microscopic anthrax spores that spread the disease. Unknown to most people, said Larsen, is that it takes thousands of these spores to infect a person's respiratory system enough to make them ill.

Once hand washing takes place, Larsen said anyone exposed to the bacteria should monitor their health for two to 10 days and, if they experience flu-like symptoms, call their regular care physician immediately for an examination.

"Terrorists breed on fear and paranoia," said Lynn Guenther, city manager and retired air force colonel. "I spent 26 years around chemical weapons and vigilance is the word, not fear."

Dr. Thomas Wilhelm, director of emergency services for Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital, said the vaccine for Anthrax is not available to non-military personnel but the national Center for Disease Control will deliver it quickly to any community where there is exposure.

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