PITTSBURGH, Jan. 22 When anthrax was sent through the U.S. Postal Service in 2001, an overwhelming majority of postal workers elected not to be inoculated with the available vaccine because of confusion and distrust, according to a University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health study. Although the FBI officially closed the case on the attacks this year, lingering suspicion and uncertainty remain, say study authors, which could influence the public's reactions to future emergencies.
According to the report, reactions from postal workers were shaped partially by fears of being experimental "guinea pigs," disagreements among public health agencies about whether the vaccine should be recommended, physician advice, low perceived risk of infection and conflicting reports from national media organizations.
The study was based on interviews and focus groups conducted with 65 postal workers in Trenton, N.J., New York and Washington, and published in the December 2008 issue of Biosecurity and Bioterrorism: Biodefense Strategy, Practice, and Science.
"The reaction of postal workers demonstrates the essential need to build trust and educate the public before the uncertainty, confusion and time pressures of a bioterrorism or pandemic emergency create major barriers for clear communication," said study author, Sandra Quinn, Ph.D., associate dean for Student Affairs and Education and associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh's Graduate School of Public Health. These concerns may be particularly relevant given that, in October 2008, the Department of Health and Human Services declared anthrax as a continuing bioterrorism threat through the end of 2015, she said.
During the 2001 anthrax attacks, which resulted in five deaths, 10,000 postal workers and others who were suspected or confirmed to have been exposed received a two-month dose of antibiotics. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC
|Contact: Clare Collins|
University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences