Professor advocates bioterrorism awareness

By Jamie Loo

Brenda Wilson, professor of microbiology at the University, talked about anthrax and bioterrorism Wednesday afternoon at the Armory.

Prior to the five anthrax-related deaths in 2001, Wilson said people did not expect bioterrorism.

“Who would’ve thought the U.S. postal system would be used to deliver something so deadly?” she asked.

Anthrax itself isn’t a virus but is a bacterium, Wilson said. Spores are similar to seeds. They can be spread through inhalation, ingestion, or cutaneously through skin lesions.

Germination time for the spores vary and symptoms can appear anywhere from a few days to a few weeks later. She said this made anthrax “an ideal bioweapon,” because it’s difficult to trace the source of the initial outbreak because the culprit can escape before the symptoms set in.

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    “As long as you get help within the first three days, you’re almost guaranteed to be able to survive,” Wilson said.

    Wilson said when the anthrax letters appeared in the U.S. Senate three years ago, Senate staffers reacted by opening up windows and doors that could have spread it more.

    “Unless we thoroughly understand what’s going on, we’re going to be scared,” Wilson said.

    The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), National Institutes for Health and the Department of Homeland Security have been allocated billions of dollars for research on potential bioterrorism agents.