News accounts have revealed that dozens of people in the United States were
potentially exposed to the anthrax bacterium in acts of bioterrorism. These
reports have triggered public inquiries about who should take antibiotics to ward
off anthrax infections.
This week, the Chicago-based American Medical Association (AMA) issued an advisory
to physicians arguing that such prophylactic use of antibiotics might do more harm
than good. The AMA noted that such use of the drugs could foster antibiotic
resistance in anthrax germs–rendering these drugs useless in the future, when they may be truly needed.
Over the past few weeks, public health officials have distributed or prescribed
ciprofloxacin and other antibiotics to people who handled envelopes containing
powders carrying anthrax spores. "And I think that's appropriate," says Timothy
Flaherty, chairman of the AMA's board of trustees, "at least for the time it takes