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WHO: US, Kenya Responded Properly to Anthrax Threat - 2001-10-18

The World Health Organization says the United States and Kenya have responded well to the threat of anthrax exposure. The United Nations agency says anthrax and other illnesses can be treated, but public health systems must be ready to deal with any outbreak of disease.

The World Health Organization says it is important for the public health service of any country to be vigilant and respond promptly to reports of possible infection.

The head of WHO's office for communicable diseases, David Heymann, says a swift response is needed to prevent disease from spreading. "Certainly, the response that has occurred in the U.S., and now in Kenya, is the response that is necessary," he said. "Strong public health response, good patient diagnosis, good laboratory systems that can diagnose the disease, and ways of making sure that containment occurs in the area where the outbreak occurs."

Dr. Heymann says a recent WHO report reviews the treatment options for diseases that could potentially be used as biological weapons, such as anthrax, smallpox, and bubonic plague. He says the plague can be treated with antibiotics, if it is caught early. Dr. Heymann says health experts from around the world are assessing treatment protocols for smallpox. "It is a disease with which we have had no experience in nature for the past 30 years because it has been eradicated," said dr. Heymann. "All these other diseases, we have had experience with recently, and we know what works and doesn't work. With smallpox, we have a protocol of what to do, and that includes isolation of patients and vaccination of health workers."

Dr. Heymann stresses that public health systems must be prepared to deal with any outbreak of disease, regardless of the cause.