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CNN AMERICAN MORNING WITH PAULA ZAHN

Much Learned from Anthrax Attacks

Aired October 4, 2002 - 08:42   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, the U.S. Postal Service testing equipment today that will be used to clean anthrax from a post office facility in Washington. That Brentwood facility has been closed since letters laced with anthrax passed through it on the way to Capitol Hill.
It was a year ago today, in fact, the first anthrax attack was reported. We all remember it. Down in Florida, and Dr. Sanjay Gupta live this morning on our "House Call" today to take us through it all -- Sanjay, good morning.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Bill. Yes, it's an incredible year of learning, frustration, and planning. The term anthrax has now become a household word for better or for worse.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GUPTA (voice-over): Inhalational anthrax at American Media in Florida caught the nation off guard. Experts struggled to learn as the attacks continued in New Jersey, New York, Washington, D.C., and finally, Connecticut.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were not as prepared as we should of.

GUPTA: Washington postal worker Leroy Richmond agrees. He was caught in the crossfire of anthrax letters. He survived, but barely.

LEROY RICHMOND, ANTHRAX SURVIVOR: It was 27 days I pray to God on the face of this no one on the face of this earth has to go through. No one.

GUPTA: And before it was all over, five were dead, 22 infected, and Americans everywhere were terrified to open their mail. The postmaster general tried to calm their nerves.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We believe the mail is safe. It's very safe if you're prudent and if you follow the simple directions that we are asking you to follow.

GUPTA: But in fact, the mail wasn't safe. Soon, two postal workers in D.C. paid for that mistake with their lives.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH: There is one communications lesson that we learned from anthrax, is don't be afraid to say you don't know. Don't panic, but don't inappropriately assure people when you don't have all of the data. GUPTA: If there was one positive, it is the country today is more prepared than ever for an attack.

FAUCI: Now, we have experience. We don't need to go to a 50- year-old textbook. We know from last year.

GUPTA: Before last year's attack, doctors trained in the United States weren't routinely taught to look for bioterrorism, like inhalational anthrax.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You really don't know what we can expect after a bioterror attack.

GUPTA: I never learned about bioterrorism in medical school, but now universities across the country are changing the way they train doctors.

BRIDGETTE MURPHY, PUBLIC HEALTH STUDENT: Taking a class like this, I think, is really going to prepare us and help us deal with what is to come.

ERIN HOGAN, PUBLIC HEALTH STUDENT: It's just something that we should look at critically to decide how we're going to handle this in the future.

GUPTA: Because while the future may mean another attack, it should also mean early detection, and maybe even what experts refer to as the Holy Grail, an anthrax vaccine. The government announced Thursday two new contracts to develop such a vaccine.

Next time around, this nation plans on being prepared.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GUPTA: And it's not only anthrax, but people are talking about smallpox, tularemia (ph), plague. Bioterrorism is something that is definitely on the minds of a lot of people, Bill.

HEMMER: You know, Sanjay, we talked about this so often, almost every day, about this time a year ago for a month, two months at a time.

There was a shock factor involved here. As you pointed out, there was an education factor as well. Were there expectations, though, a year ago that turned out not to be true along that process?

GUPTA: Well, there was a lot of things about anthrax -- no one had really seen a case, certainly not a deliberate case of anthrax in this country ever, and the best data we had was from an accidental release of anthrax over 50 years ago.

So there were a lot of things that were sort of new. We thought the inhalational anthrax death rates were going to be about 90 percent. Of course, that was before Cipro, that was before the way the ICUs, Intensive Care Units in the hospitals are designed today, so the death rates, thankfully were a lot lower, but there was just a lot of misinformation, Bill. You remember very well, a lot of misinformation being propagated out there by a lot of people.

HEMMER: In the meantime, the search continues for the person or people responsible for it.

GUPTA: That's right.

HEMMER: Thank you, Sanjay. Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

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