Letters laced with deadly bacteria spores served as a lethal reminder about the threat of bio-terrorism scarcely a month after the shock of 9/11. The anthrax attacks in October of 2001 killed 5 people and infected another 17. The offices of the media and those of the two senators affected had to be cleaned at enormous time and expense. Basically, each building had to be treated twice – once with ClO2 to get rid of the infectious agent and another time with sodium bisulfite to neutralize the chlorine dioxide that kills the anthrax.
Fumigating one building alone cost 27 million dollars. The Brentwood postal facility through which many of the letters passed cost 130 million dollars over 26 months to decontaminate. Surely there must be a better and easier way to disinfect a large area or building when something like this happens. Scientists at Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) in collaboration with Stellar Micro Devices (SMD) based in Austin Texas have developed a combined UV-C/X-ray system that may be cheaper and more convenient for possible future anthrax decontamination.
Consequences Of Doing Nothing
If another bio-terrorism attack occurs, anyone who comes in contact with Bacillus anthracis will need to be treated immediately. About 95% of those exposed tend to contract the cutaneous (infection of the skin) form. This less lethal kind has a high curative rate with early treatment using certain antibiotics. The most effective are ciprofloxacin, doxycycline, and penicillin. If left untreated, cutaneous anthrax has a mortality rate of about 20%.
Inhalation anthrax is usually fatal. It is very difficult to treat and requires hospitalization along with antibiotics. Even with early and comprehensive medical care, known cases suggest a mortality rate of 75%. It is assumed that this would be near 100%, if left untreated.
The less common gastrointestinal anthrax (a digestive tract illness caused by ingesting the spores) kills between 25 and 60% of those infected. The treatment is similar to the other types, yet has a few different symptoms.
Anthrax is not contagious. Those who become ill are exposed directly to large quantities of spores. Usually this is from a deliberate concentration in a powdery form. The fact that it is not contagious is a reason why it was at one time considered an attractive bio-weapon. The contagion will not spread throughout the population and endanger the attacker.
Weaponized anthrax can continue to infect those who come in contact with contaminated buildings and objects, until the spores are eliminated or killed. UV light and X-rays have been known for decades to kill certain germs under threshold conditions. These mechanisms have been used separately for years to help sterilize equipment.
The new research by GTRI and SMD has found that both forms of electromagnetic radiation can kill the anthrax spores when exposed to high enough concentrations. They found that UV-C in particular does a good job of decontaminating exposed surfaces. They also confirmed that X-rays can kill any spores hidden in crevices. Using phosphors to stimulate high efficiency cathodoluminescence, large areas could be irradiated and made safe in as little as 3 hours.
To learn more details about this exciting new development, click on MedicalNewsToday.