FDA to Publish Guidelines for Anthrax Meds

An America panicked over anthrax has been reaching for and talking about one antibiotic — Cipro. But the Food and Drug Administration will soon publish a guideline for the use of penicillin and doxycycline as alternatives to stave off infection.

Cipro, made by Bayer Corp., a division of German chemical group Bayer AG , became the first medication specifically approved for treatment of exposure to anthrax last year. The government has stockpiled enough doses for 2 million people for 60 days. But penicillin and doxycycline have long been approved as treatments for anthrax. They even offer a less expensive treatment.

As fears of a grand scale bioterrorist attack spread, Cipro has been disappearing from pharmacy shelves because it has been touted as the stronger of the antibiotics. Americans have been hoarding the medication, too, either by procuring prescriptions online or through their private physicians.

"It seems as if in the minds of some people, that's the only drug," FDA drug chief Dr. Janet Woodcock told The Associated Press today. "That actually isn't the case."

In the next week, the FDA will publish specific instructions on its Web site on what dose of doxycycline and penicillin can be used to treat or ward off anthrax infection. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will produce a special Webcast Thursday to teach thousands of local doctors how to recognize anthrax and properly treat people exposed to the bacteria.

These older antibiotics are "relatively inexpensive and readily available," Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson told Congress today.

The announcement by the FDA comes the same week that Germany-based Bayer Corp. said it was more than tripling its production of the drug. The United States is reportedly talking to Bayer about relaxing its patent on Cipro to allow generic versions.

But the FDA and physicians want to alert people that penicillin and doxycycline can also be effective when it comes to fighting anthrax infection.

"So we don't have to focus just on one weapon here — we have an armamentarium that we can bring into play here," said Dr. John Clements, professor of Tulane University's School of Medicine.