The greater danger of Anthrax is in the public’s reaction

By Richard Magda
October 25, 2001

Three days after two Washington postal workers were killed by anthrax infection, the nationwide fear of bioterrorism has increased to the point of pandemonium.

In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, many speculated that bioterrorism was a distinct possibility. Indeed, in early October Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld warned the nation that terrorists might use biological agents to spread fear and disrupt daily life. It has now been confirmed in several cases that anthrax has invaded, and in three tragic cases destroyed, the lives of innocent American civilians. Although it is not known for certain whether those behind the anthrax attacks are the same individuals responsible for the Sept. 11 tragedy, the recent attacks have targeted the media and the government – the bastions of our freedom of speech and thought and the institutions that make our liberties a tangible reality.

Although these targets have generally been far away from Cabrini College, it is easy for the threat to come close to home. With new anthrax infections being reported daily, there is no certain way of determining when or where the next case will appear. As long as we are receiving mail, we are in danger. That in mind, however, we must know that the danger caused by anthrax is insignificant compared to the danger of our chaotic reactions.

Living under the threat of such attacks will require both patience and prudence. The Cabrini College Mail Service is wise to abide by the recommendations of the U.S. Postal Service and FBI in weeding out suspicious packages and in making accommodations for its employees, such as offering gloves and other means of protection against biological contamination. It is also wise not to redirect college mail elsewhere. Doing so would only encourage the hysteria that has already sprouted around mail services. Although caution certainly seems necessary during this current national crisis, Cabrini has done well to resist the temptation to take this caution to extremes.

Nationwide precautions have similarly been encouraging. The significant increase in the production of the drug Cipro, which has been found to impede the effect of even the more dangerous forms of anthrax, should help to relieve Americans across the nation. Further increases, as well as stockpiling of other antibiotics and vaccines, may be required. At the same time, of course, the nation cannot take preparations for biological warfare to extremes. America depends on its mail system for everything from daily business transactions to casual correspondence between friends; abandoning the mails, hoarding supplies of antibiotics or reverting to hysteria in any form would only add to the attacks’ impact. Many of the envelopes tested for anthrax have been shown to be hoaxes, which do the perpetrators a favor by multiplying the fear their attacks create.

The terrorists claimed the first victory of the war on Sept. 11, but we must remember that the war started only a month ago, and it promises to last months or even years.

Unlike the military conflicts of recent times, the current campaign in Afghanistan is especially difficult because we are fighting an unknown enemy whose location is unclear. But we still carry on and commit ourselves to the cause.

The same should apply to the threat of anthrax. Although we may not know its source or sources, we must commit ourselves to seeking out those responsible for this biological terrorism and holding them accountable for their attack on our nation. Until then, however, we must continue to carry on by rebuilding our greatest cities and our confidence.

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Richard Magda

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