Anthrax: Questions, Answers and Resources

Experts say it remains very difficult to transform the deadly bacterium into a weapon that can be effectively dispersed and kill large numbers of people. To develop an anthrax strain in its most lethal form — pulmonary anthrax — spores have to be crafted to just the right size. If too small, a person will exhale the spores. If too large, the spores fall to the ground and become ineffective.

A bomb carrying anthrax would likely destroy the germ as it explodes. Dispersing the bacterium with aerosols is challenging because, unless it is in spore form, it is a wet substance and can clog sprayers. The Aum Shinrikyo cult, which released the nerve gas sarin in the Tokyo subway system in 1995, killing 12 people, repeatedly tried to produce and disseminate anthrax, but failed to hurt anyone each time, according to testimony of its members.

How easy is it to react to an anthrax attack?

Rapid detection of a disease outbreak remains a problem since many doctors have not been trained in how to recognize early symptoms of anthrax infection, though they have become much more alert in light of recent events. Emergency room doctors were quick to identify anthrax in the Florida cases.

There is new technology available that can help with detection. A portable DNA analyzer is available to quickly identify specific biological agents once an attack is suspected. Lawrence Livermore National Labs has invented a machine that tests air quality every half-hour and can sound an alarm if any of several pre-programmed biological or chemical agents are detected.

The machines can be installed at possible terrorist targets, including airports, subway stations, and government buildings.

Once detected, Anthrax is a relatively easy germ to handle, given that it is usually responsive to early antibiotics and is not contagious.

-- Healthology.com and ABCNEWS' Amanda Onion, Nicholas Regush and Jeff Carpenter contributed to this report.

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