Several incidents have occurred in the United States over the past few months where envelopes of powder alleged to be anthrax have been sent to various facilities. In some cases only a note indicating anthrax had been released in the facility was sent. All of these incidents turned out to be a hoax. Emergency Response personnel reacted to these incidents by evacuating the facilities and decontaminating those suspected to have been exposed. These events have tied up emergency response resources and medical facilities just as they would be during an actual release of a chemical or biological agent.

The Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Operations Unit of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the National Domestic Preparedness Office (NDPO), in coordination with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Department of Health and Human Services/Office of Emergency Preparedness, and the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases have issued some guidelines for responding to this type of incident.

Anthrax spores are harmful only if inhaled, ingested, or come in contact with broken skin or the eyes. Those who may have been exposed to anthrax are not contagious to others. Emergency responders who encounter this type of incident should follow the same procedures they would for any other type of biological hazardous materials event. When a threat is received, a thorough hazard risk assessment should be conducted. Evidence gathered at the incident scene should be triple-bagged. Those who have been "exposed" should await identification of the substance before any medical treatment is given. Medication should NOT be administered to suspected victims until anthrax has been confirmed by laboratory testing of the substance. This usually takes 48 hours. Persons exposed should be given instructions to seek medical attention at a predetermined facility, if symptoms develop before the lab results are available. The staff at the medical facility should be informed of the suspected exposure along with the Health Department.

Response personnel should protect themselves by wearing splash protection, gloves, and a full face respirator with HEPA filters or SCBA. Those people who were in the immediate area of the incident and may be contaminated, should be decontaminated. Soap and water should be used, bleach solutions are NOT required. Bleach solutions of a 1:10 dilution of houshold bleach, should only be used when the agent is confirmed. Bleach should only be applied after soap and water have been used. The bleach solution should be rinsed off after 10 to 15 minutes. Assistance can be immediately provided from the National Response Center at 1-800-424-8802.

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RBurke