State counts its supply of antibiotics to fight anthrax

Posted: Monday, November 05, 2001

ANCHORAGE A survey of pharmacies in Alaska indicates there's enough antibiotics to treat almost 15,000 Alaskans for five days if they're exposed to anthrax. National stockpiles would have to be tapped after that.

Inhaled anthrax, the most serious form of the potentially deadly bacteria, has killed four people and infected six others in the Lower 48.

The state's emergency coordination center has received almost 60 calls reporting potential bioterrorism events. So far, all Alaska anthrax tests have come back negative.

To be prepared, the state's Division of Health and Social Services called for a survey Oct. 17 to determine antibiotic supplies in the state. The Division of Medical Assistance carried out the research into quantities of amoxicillin, doxycycline, Cipro and tetracycline, the four antibiotics used to treat people exposed to the anthrax strains found on the East Coast.

Dr. Beth Funk, state medical epidemiologist, said that in the event of anthrax exposure, health officials would likely tap Alaska's pharmacies to gather enough drugs to start people on antibiotics before the national stockpile arrived. Using that approach, almost 14,850 residents could start treatment with a five-day course of the available antibiotics.

The five days of drugs would only be a fraction of what would be needed for a full course of antibiotics to prevent inhalation anthrax. For example, the CDC recommends 60 days of Cipro or doxycycline.

State health officials are creating a pharmaceutical plan that should be completed by Dec. 1, said Jay Livey, Department of Health and Social Services commissioner. The plan will discuss access to the national stockpile, how it will be handled once it arrives in Alaska and whether or not the state should assemble its own stockpile.

Livey said the survey was only the first of the state's drug supply.

"One of the reasons for doing a survey is to compare the available drugs from week to week," he said. "We're going to keep doing that."

Dave Campana, Medicaid pharmacy program manager for the health division, and research analyst Gary Medsker made survey calls to pharmacies from Barrow to Ketchikan.

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