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Dr. Anderson: Anthrax Risks to Travel

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Dr. Anderson: Anthrax Risks to Travel

Doctor Eric Anderson, a charter diplomat of the American Board of Family Practice and a former president of the New Hampshire Academy of Family Physicians is a regular contributor to Travel Tips 'n' Tales. He is widely traveled and published, having written a travel health column for Travel 50 & Beyond and a weekly online column, Ask The Doctor, for The New York Times Syndicate.

Dr. Anderson invites you to send your questions regarding travel health issues to ericmd@lorrypatton.com

Eric Anderson, MD

eric_88.jpg A public concerned about the risks of travel after September 11 is now, in my opinion, being assaulted by another Attack on America: the media's obsession with anthrax. Sure, anthrax in lungs is a dread disease, but the media, perhaps because it is in the center of the storm, is overstating the risks to the average person in the United States and causing excessive worry. True, more cases may develop but, so far, there have been less than 20 confirmed cases of anthrax in a population of 285 million, a ratio of one in 14.3 million. To get a sense of proportion, the risk of dying from overexertion in a marathon is, according to the October 2000 issue of Runner's World, 1.25 in 100,000 racers.

Yes it's worrisome that there are people out there trying to kill U.S. citizens, but if we panic the terrorists have won. If the question is, "Are we at risk of this disease if we resume our travels?" the short answer is no. People should continue to travel.

Are there precautions tourists might take to avoid anthrax?

Not really, other than understanding the disease is one of domestic animals in Third World countries that lack proper veterinary services. Most cases in medical journals have been of the skin form of anthrax or intestinal form where inadequately cooked meat had been eaten. The less common but more dangerous inhaled form of anthrax developed when rural people worked in dusty farm buildings. In fact the old term for inhaled anthrax was "wool sorter's disease."

So what does that tell us to do when we travel in developing countries? Minimize contact with animals, wash our hands often, especially if we have cuts or broken skin, avoid dusty rural areas, and keep in touch with the news to know what's happening in the world we live in. Furthermore, although it has nothing to do with bioterrorism, we may avoid animosity if we give some thought to the culture of the land we are traveling through and avoid standing out as wealthy or arrogant visitors.

» » More articles by Dr. Eric Anderson

Lorry Patton's Travel Tips 'n' Tales would like to remind you to always consult with your personal physician before following any medical advice and to please read the Travel Tips 'n' Tales "Terms of Use" found on the bottom of each page of this website. Dr. Anderson's opinions are not necessarily the opinions of Lorry Patton or Travel Tips 'n' Tales.