Bureau of Consular Affairs
October 31, 2001
Chemical - Biological Agents
The recent terrorist threats and confirmed cases of exposure to anthrax have caused an increase in anxiety over the possibility of attacks using chemical and biological agents (CBA.) Currently, the method of delivery of anthrax has been by letter or package. While the risk of such attacks is limited, it cannot be excluded. As always, the Department will promptly share with American citizens overseas any credible information about threats to their safety. Americans should stay informed and be prepared for any eventuality.
In 1999, the Department of Defense announced its intention to commence the Family and Force Protection Initiative (FFPI) in order to provide enhanced protection to the dependents of U.S. military service members and to civilian Department of Defense (DOD) employees and their families. This program was first implemented for U.S. Forces Korea.
The Department of State has had a chemical and biological countermeasure program since 1998, when it began to deploy chemical antidotes and antibiotics to selected posts abroad. While we have no information to indicate there is an imminent threat from use of anthrax or other biological agents as a weapon against our overseas missions at this time, the Department is expanding its countermeasure program. As a precaution, the Department requested our missions overseas to stock a three-day supply of the antibiotic ciprofloxacin for all individuals who work in or frequent the missions.
This small supply of ciprofloxacin is being pre-positioned to ensure rapid access to this protective antibiotic for our employees in case of an anthrax exposure in an overseas USG facility and would allow the mission sufficient time to provide access to care for all individuals exposed while securing additional supplies of antibiotics. Once an exposure is suspected, all individuals who had been exposed in our workplace would be provided antibiotics pending a full investigation of the exposure. This would include any private American citizen present in the facility at the time of exposure.
Again, if the Department becomes aware of any specific and credible threat to the safety and security of American citizens abroad, that information will be provided to them promptly.
Exposures to CBA that occur outside U.S. Government facilities would require the involvement of local public health authorities who would provide information and if necessary, protective antibiotics to the general public. Ciprofloxacin and other antibiotics effective against anthrax, including doxycycline and amoxicillin are available with a prescription in most pharmacies throughout the world.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is the lead government agency on infectious diseases, including chemical/biological agents (CBA). For detailed information on CBA, including anthrax, inquirers are referred to the CDC Internet home page at http://www.cdc.gov. The CDC's international travelers hotline telephone number is 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747); FAX: 1-888-CDC-FAXX (1-888-232-3299).
As always, American citizens should review their own personal security situations and take those precautions they deem appropriate to ensure their well-being.
A. Biological agents can be dispersed by an aerosol spray which must be inhaled. However, these agents can also be used to contaminate food, water and other products. Attention to basic food hygiene when traveling abroad is very important.
E. One of the biological agents is the spore-forming bacterium that causes Anthrax, an acute infectious disease. It should be noted, however, that effective dispersal of the Anthrax bacteria is difficult.