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Discussion with Anthrax Expert

Aired October 12, 2001 - 12:46   ET

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


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Dr. Richard Spertzel -- I hope I pronounce that right, doctor; if not, you'll correct me, is in Jefferson, Maryland.

DR. RICHARD SPERTZEL, ANTHRAX EXPERT: Correct.

BROWN: The doctor has considerable experience dealing with biochemical issues, and he joins us now to talk a little about this one. White powdery substance, tell you anything; if I just say those words, does that tell you anything at all?

SPERTZEL: Well, given the circumstances, it would suggest that allegedly it was supposed to be at least anthrax spores, which had been grown and then dried.

BROWN: I assume that takes some level of sophistication. That's not something I can do with my daughter's chemistry set.

SPERTZEL: That is correct. You have to know what you are doing, and know how to do it, and then you would proceed from there. Now if it is done correctly, it could be extremely vulnerable to being aerosolized, or put up into the air, and that is the way that vulnerable put be into the air.

BROWN: OK, and we have no evidence of that, but I want to walk back through that. You would somehow take this white powdery substance that you manufactured or grown -- I'm not sure what the right word is here -- and somehow you could -- but again, this is a fairly sophisticated thing as well, you could aerosolize it, and the reason why that's important is because someone -- these are words that are honestly quite hard to say, if someone had a mind to infect a large area, that's how you do it.

SPERTZEL: That is correct. If you what you were doing, prepared the material in the proper fashion, that it was the right particle size and had other properties that I would prefer not to describe, then it would be readily aerosolizable. It would readily go up into the air and it make it -- individuals exposed to it then vulnerable to inhaling it.

BROWN: All right. That actually was essentially my next question. These two forms of anthrax are -- they are not in any distant cousins. One is derived from the other, is that right? The inhaled form is really the same as the skin absorbed form, it just enters the body differently?

SPERTZEL: Exactly right. Anthrax can actually enter the body actually three ways. One is...

BROWN: I'm sorry, before do you that, tell me then if they are essentially the same thing, why is one more likely to be lethal than the other?

SPERTZEL: It's the form -- it's the nature of the disease development this the body. In case of exposure through the skin, you develop ulcers on the skin, which may progress in untreated cases to what would be called aseptosemia (ph), and that's when you might get into lethal side of a cutaneous exposure. On the other hand, organisms inhaled into the lung, which are then carried to media stymun (ph), the membrane separating the right and the left and the right side of the lungs, and at this point in time, you essentially are starting with the organisms well into the body, and is the creation of the toxins, as the organism grows and divides within the body that ultimately causes the death inhalation anthrax.

BROWN: OK, a couple of other quick things and we'll let you go, doctor.

The mayor in his news conference, Mayor Giuliani, advised people, if they gets a suspicious packages not to move it around. Why so?

SPERTZEL: That is because of the risk of releasing the material into the air. Now if it has already been opened, then -- and was of the nature that can readily go up into the air, then it may already have been too late. If, on the other hand, it is the wrong particle size, and quite honestly, that's what I would expect of people that don't quite know what they are doing, then it's not necessarily that degree of risk. But again, the essential element in any of these cases is contain the area of exposure.

BROWN: Anything else you want to say here that you haven't said, anything you wish I asked that I haven't asked. I'm pretty clearly not a doctor sitting up here. I want to make sure we are asking the right questions, and giving you the opportunity to give the right answers.

SPERTZEL: No, I think what you've asked is appropriate. It is essential, I think, that people understand that the cutaneous form comes about from being exposed to anthrax organisms through a break in the skin, whereas in the inhalation form, it's because you've inhaled the spores down into the lungs.

BROWN: OK, doctor, thank you very much.

If I may, sir, you might want to stay in touch with us here. I suspect our newsdesk is going to want to some talking with you as we go along today, and we get some more information, and we can process it a bit through you and help make sure that we do this correctly, OK? Thank you for your time.

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