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US, Mexico Discuss Bioterrorism - 2001-10-16

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U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson says people fearful of contracting anthrax should not self-medicate with the prescription antibiotic Ciprofloxacin, called Cipro for short. Mr. Thompson was in El Paso, Texas Monday, speaking with his Mexican counterpart, Julio Frenk Mora about a two-nation response to both terrorism and routine health problems.

As pharmacies in some parts of the United States report high demand for Cipro and other antibiotics used for treating anthrax, Secretary of Health and Human Services Thompson is calling for calm. He says people who have not been diagnosed with the disease and take Cipro could be doing themselves harm if they ever are exposed to anthrax. He says the effect of the antibiotics would be reduced by the prior use.

There has also been a run on pharmacies in Mexico by people wanting to buy Cipro. On Monday there was a report of an anthrax infection in the city of Juarez, just across the border from El Paso, that turned out to be false. Mexican Health Minister Frenk has also called for calm and insists that the Mexican health system is prepared to deal with bioterrorist incidents.

Secretary Thompson says the United States is working to defend Mexico's population as well as its own. "[We] have developed very much of an action plan to deal with bioterrorism anywhere in the United State," he said. "I have shared that with Minister Frenk and he knows that if Mexico needs help, we will be the first ones there to help out the Mexican government."

Mr. Thompson says the United States currently has sufficient anthrax vaccine on hand to help two million infected people, but that efforts are underway to increase that stockpile to allow treatment for 12 million.

In addition to the biological weapons threat, the U.S. and Mexican health ministers discussed ongoing health problems on the border, including tuberculosis. Mr. Thompson says it is in the interest of the United States to work in cooperation with Mexico on these issues because "diseases know no boundaries." The Health and Human Services Secretary says the Bush administration will ask Congress for $25 million this year to improve health services in the border region.

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