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 You are in: Bureaus/Offices Reporting Directly to the Secretary > Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism > Releases > Fact Sheets > 2001
Fact Sheet
Bureau of Consular Affairs
Washington, DC
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.

Some general information on chemical-biological agents (CBA) follows:

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.

B. Some chemical agents may be volatile--evaporating rapidly to form clouds of agent. Others may be persistent. These agents may act directly on the skin, lungs, eyes, respiratory tract or be absorbed through your skin and lungs causing injury. Choking and nerve agents damage the soft tissue in these organs.

C. When properly used, appropriate masks are effective protection to prevent the inhalation of either biological or chemical agents; however this assumes an adequate warning. Gas masks alone do not protect against agents that act through skin absorption. Those who wish to acquire protective equipment for personal use should contact commercial vendors.

D. There is an incubation period after exposure to biological agents. It is essential that you seek appropriate care for illnesses acquired while traveling abroad to assure prompt diagnosis and treatment.

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.

  • Anthrax is treatable if that treatment is initiated promptly after exposure. The post-exposure treatment consists of certain antibiotics administered in combination with the vaccine.
  • An anthrax vaccine that confers protective immunity does exist, but is not readily available to private parties. Efficacy and safety of use of this vaccine for persons under 18 or over 65 and pregnant women have not been determined.
  • The anthrax vaccine is produced exclusively by Bioport under contract to the Department of Defense. Virtually all vaccine produced in the United States is under Defense Department contract primarily for military use and a small number of other official government uses.
  • For additional information, please consult your health care provider or local health authority.

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