Dec 13, 2001 (CIDRAP News) – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC's) priorities for research on anthrax include development of an antitoxin, aerosolization of anthrax powders sent by mail, and postexposure prophylaxis, CDC officials said this week.
The agency convened a meeting of about 150 government scientists early in the week to discuss research on anthrax, the CDC's Bradley Perkins, MD, said at a telephone press conference Wednesday. "The objective of the meeting was to work with federal partners and other stakeholders to identify, prioritize, and coordinate near-term Bacillus anthracis bioterrorism research for public health response," Perkins said.
The scientists, from several government agencies, broke into eight working groups, each of which picked three priority areas for research, he said.
In response to a question about the top three research topics overall, Perkins said, "We think we need to move aggressively to make available antitoxin therapy as an adjunct to antibiotics for future cases of disease, and that's in progress, actually, at the present time." Antibiotic therapy can be effective for inhalational anthrax if given early in the course of the infection, but anthrax organisms release toxins that can harm a patient after the bacteria has been killed by antibiotics.
Perkins added, "One of the other areas was better characterization of aerosol risk around contaminated envelopes in transit," including risks related to mail processing and to the opening of envelopes. He commented that the CDC most likely will do simulation studies using a nonpathogenic bacteria as a surrogate for anthrax.
"A third area of clear interest," Perkins said, "is additional animal studies to better understand the best postexposure prophylaxis regimenfor example, the duration of antibiotic therapy and how dose might affect needed duration of therapy. The central role of vaccines as an adjunct to antibiotics for post-exposure prophylaxis clearly needs to be better understood for us to make good public health decisions." People thought to have been exposed to anthrax in the recent attacks have been advised to take antibiotics for 60 days, because of evidence that anthrax spores can linger in the body and germinate several weeks after exposure.
Transcript of CDC's Dec 12 press briefing on anthrax research