October 2, 2008 in Nation/World

Letter carriers key in plan to counter anthrax attack

By David Brown Washington Post
 

At the ready

The federal government has enough anthrax antibiotics in the Strategic National Stockpile to treat 40 million people for 60 days. The medicine is cached in 12 sites around the country.

WASHINGTON – “Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night, nor bioterrorism attack stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds – especially if they are delivering antibiotics to protect people from anthrax.”

That may someday become the new unofficial motto of the United States Postal Service.

Secretary of Health and Human Services Michael O. Leavitt on Wednesday proposed a solution to one of the bigger challenges in responding to an anthrax bioterror attack – how to deliver protective antibiotics to tens of thousands of people overnight.

The tentative answer: Have the mail carrier do the job.

As an incentive to the letter carriers – who would volunteer – the government would issue them in advance an antibiotic supply large enough to treat themselves and their families. They would also be accompanied by police officers on their rounds.

“We have found letter carriers to be the federal government’s quickest and surest way of getting pills to whole communities,” Leavitt said.

The strategy has the full support of the United States Postal Service and its unions, said Drew Von Bergen, of the National Association of Letter Carriers.

“Any time this country has any kind of crisis, it is the Postal Service that is out there first,” said Postal Service spokeswoman Sue Brennan.

The Postal Service in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn., will solicit about 700 letter carriers, enough to cover 20 Zip codes or about one-quarter of all households. The workers will be medically screened (including questions about family members), fitted with N95 face masks, and issued a supply of the antibiotic doxycycline for their household.

Before that pilot project can begin, however, the Food and Drug Administration must approve distribution of the drug for this purpose, which could take months.


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