I just opened a package at my office with a note inside telling me the package has anthrax in it and that I am now infected. What should I do? 

Don't Panic!... Terror tips for the terrified

The overwhelming majority of threats like that are hoaxes. According to the U.S. Postal Service, there was not a single instance of anthrax being delivered through the mail until last week. In 1999 and 2000 there were 178 anthrax threats by mail and not one of them was real. You should also feel better knowing that as I'm writing this, five of the seven people who've tested positive for anthrax exposure are asympomatic.

If you receive a package or letter containing a threat, immediately put it down, tell everyone to leave the vicinity of the package, and have someone call the police and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. You and anyone else who handled the package should wash your hands with soap and water. When police, Postal Inspection and health department officials arrive, you may be asked to give them your clothing, further evidence that no matter what the circumstance, clean underwear is a must.

If an inspection of the package shows that you were in fact exposed to anthrax, you'll have to take antibiotics. If treatment is begun promptly, anthrax is curable. And fortunately for the people around you, anthrax isn't contagious.

Smallpox, another alleged bioterror weapon of choice, is another story. Although the disease was declared eradicated in 1980, the former Soviet Union kept stockpiles of it for use as a biological weapon. There's a vaccine to prevent it, but smallpox does not respond to treatment once it's contracted. It's also highly contagious and can be spread from person to person, or via infected objects such as blankets or clothing. According to WebMD.com, 30 percent of those who contract smallpox die of it, and survivors can be left blind or with permanent scars.

The U.S. Postal Service has a list of tips to help people identify and hopefully avoid "suspicious" parcels. First of all, if a package is unexpected or from someone with whom you are unfamiliar, don't open it if you can avoid it. Also refrain from opening packages or letters that have no return address, have an unknown addressee or are of unusual weight given their size or appearance. And you may also want to avoid packages with the return address "O. bin Laden, c/o al Qaeda, Kandahar, Afghanistan."

E-mail questions about possible terrorist scenarios to Andisheh Nouraee at andisheh@creativeloafing.com.

 

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