Rowan seminar gives answers about anthrax

By GENE VERNACCHIO, Courier-Post Staff

GLASSBORO--A Rowan University professor tried to instill a little perspective and calm Tuesday as anthrax-tainted letters continue to leave Americans weary of their mailboxes.

About 30 Rowan staff and students attended a question- and-answer session hosted by Dr. Gregory Hecht, a professor of microbiology. He debunked some widespread misconceptions.

Hecht said myths spread via e-mail tell readers to microwave or iron any suspicious mail. But those techniques won't kill anthrax spores, he said.

"(Ironing) would be creating a bigger risk," Hecht said. "You're going to be putting in steam that can blow spores out of the envelope and spread them around.

"If you have some reason to believe you've received a suspicious letter, set it down or put it in a plastic bag, wash your hands with soap and water and call 9-1-1," Hecht said. "Do not take it out and show it around."

Many spectators said they attended the lecture to help ferret out fact from fiction.

"I get most of my news about anthrax from the TV, and I don't always find them to be the most reliable source," said Joanne Showers, a Rowan secretary.

Bonnie Shoemaker, an administrative assistant, said " there's no sense being spooked."

"If you fully know about the topic, there's no reason to worry," she said.

In very clinical terms, Hecht explained how anthrax bacteria is manufactured; the places where infections start - the digestive tract, skin, lungs and nasal passages; and how it can be used as a weapon.

Far more disturbing, Hecht said, is the possibility of other more deadly forms of bioterrorism. Specifically, he named smallpox, botulism and pneumonic plague.

"Other bioweapons may, in principle, be much more serious," he said. "Be glad that this is anthrax because we have a handle on how to treat it and how to prevent infection."

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Date Published: Wednesday, October 31, 2001 - 12:35
Source URL: Courier-Post