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Maryland Company Claims to be Only U.S. Manufacturer Making Consumer Anthrax Test Kit

Aired October 19, 2001 - 07:40   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning. Welcome back at just about 20 minutes before the hour. Supply and demand, a Maryland company claims it is the only U.S. manufacturer making the consumer anthrax test kit. Keep in mind the government has its own kit. This test is for the general public.

With more on that, we go now to CNN's Jeanne Meserve at Tetracore in Gaithersburg, Maryland just outside of Washington.

Good morning Jeanne. What happens there?


When a hazardous material team responds to a call, it wants to know quickly whether or not it's dealing with anthrax. So some of them have portable test kits (INAUDIBLE) a little device ideas that looks like and acts like rather a - rather like a home pregnancy test.

With me here is Dr. Bill Nelson, president of Tetracore. Explain to me how this works.

DR. BILL NELSON, PRESIDENT OF TETRACORE: Well this is - basically it's just like a home pregnancy test. They would take a powder over the material they have. They would add it to a solution that we have. They would put five drops on here. Two lines that come up like this is a positive. One line would be a negative.

MESERVE: OK, Tom Smith is here and he's going to actually do a test for us. Reassure me we're not in the presence of anthrax spores.

DR. NELSON: No we have -- we have a simulant that we can use that we've developed so that you could test for a positive without the anthrax.

MESERVE: Now does every hazmat team have something like this in their arsenal?

DR. NELSON: No, basically the product has been out for about 16 months, but people were just starting to get able to be able to buy them and put them in their equipment.

MESERVE: And what has happened to demand in the last few weeks? DR. NELSON: (INAUDIBLE) roof basically. The - our distributor - the shelves are empty. He's backordered probably to four weeks at this point and time.

MESERVE: OK, here Tom is putting some of the solution into the kits. How precise does this measurement have to be here?

DR. NELSON: It doesn't have to be real precise. It's basically made for a field operation so that somewhere between four to six to eight drops will make the test work.

MESERVE: And you don't have to be a trained lab ...

DR. NELSON: You don't have to be a ...

MESERVE: ... scientist to do this test.

DR. NELSON: ... trained lab scientist - no.

MESERVE: ... at all.

DR. NELSON: And that's the reason, basically we provide the equipment, the dropper and it's a relatively easy thing to do.

MESERVE: And we can see there's some pink moving up in one of those. Explain to me what I'm seeing.

DR. NELSON: Yes, when the - when you load the solution, it hydrates it. It wets that membrane and there's - the material, it's going to make the test go positive or negative that's in there, and it has to all move through. Some of it will be trapped on that line. If it's positive, the rest of it will move on through.

MESERVE: And how long will this take to do?

DR. NELSON: Fifteen minutes. You usually can start to see a positive before that if you know what you're looking for. But for a safety sake, we want them to run it for 15 minutes and then put it into our reader and run the reader.

MESERVE: Now how sensitive is this test?

DR. NELSON: It's very sensitive. If you were looking for an amount of material that would really harm you immediately in terms of inhaled anthrax and stuff like that, this will pick up that. Very, very levels, it wouldn't and you would have to send that onto a lab to determine whether it is. But the samples like at the Senate building, would come up positive on this type of test.

MESERVE: OK, Dr. Bill Nelson, thank you and we're going to be back next hour to look at the results of the test that we're running here now and Paula, we hope they're negative.

Back to you.

ZAHN: Yes I hope they are too. It's fascinating to watch. Thanks Jeanne.

The run on those anthrax test kits and demand for the drug Cipro are just two signs of America's anthrax anxiety. Certainly we've seen (INAUDIBLE) in New York.

Joining us in the studio this morning is Dr. Steven Garner (ph). He is the Chief Medical Officer of the St. Vincent Catholic Medical Centers in New York, which of course, is where some of the folks in the World Trade Center towers that were injured were first sent.

We're not going to talk about that this morning, but this run on Cipro. Good to have you with us.


ZAHN: You're welcome. How many people want Cipro right now in New York City?

DR. GARNER: I think just about everybody from doorman, workers, family, relatives. It's just everywhere you go, people are asking for Cipro, and I think it grows out of an irrational approach to the situation or miseducation of people.

They hear things on the news that one person has contracted anthrax and died, and the only drug for this is Cipro. And they see headlines, anthrax scare or death, and people become frightened. And I guess that's the purpose of terrorism.

ZAHN: (INAUDIBLE) and let me ask you this. I mean obviously you see this fear is very popular in the city. What's wrong with someone going out and buying Cipro or one of these other antibiotics the government's now telling us will be effective in treating against anthrax, putting it in your medicine cabinet, and waiting until there's the potential exposure. What's so bad about that?

DR. GARNER: Well one thing is when people are given medications, they tend to use it. It doesn't just sit in the medicine cabinet. They have Cipro in the house. They wake up with the flu and the next thing they say, oh my God, I must have anthrax. I've got the flu symptoms, and they start taking it.

ZAHN: Well that's irresponsible.

DR. GARNER: That's irresponsible, but it goes into irrational fear and then, as they take it, resistance organisms develop and people who need Cipro, such as people with cystic fibrosis, a lung disease with repeated infections, where people need Cipro to live, won't be able to use it because they'll be resistant bugs to it -- aside from the tremendous increase in cost to - because Cipro's about $300 a month if you can get it at that price.

ZAHN: And now they're talks that Bayer may actually share its patent and allow some of these other drug companies to manufacture generically. But even if that's the case, you still don't want people to go out and buy this stuff unless they're known to have had some exposure to anthrax.

DR. GARNER: You know Paula, last Friday, after the media scare, 300 predominantly media people stormed the Emergency Room at St. Vincent's demanding Cipro. We had to dispatch 40 personnel - nurses and physicians to deal with this situation to explain why we're not going to give the Cipro - why it's not the correct thing to do.

Taking an antibiotic such as Cipro, which has many harmful effects, causes depression and agitation, something that we're all going through right now to compound it. And it took about five hours of our time to explain to these patients why we can't give it.

ZAHN: Hey, but wait, they aren't the only patients, because we know on Capitol Hill a number of senators are taking Cipro prophylactic. What kind of message does (INAUDIBLE)?

DR. GARNER: It's disappointing because that's the example. You want people to set an example. I know in my house I have no Cipro and the physicians that I know don't have Cipro because it's not an appropriate thing to do.

ZAHN: Yes, but you can get it faster than the American public if you need it.

DR. GARNER: And isn't it interesting, though, that the poor people now are getting better care than the rich people because when they go to the clinics - we have 3,000 doctors that work for us. We can set policy. We don't give Cipro unless there's an indication for it, unless they've been exposed.

People that are wealthy are in different socioeconomic class can go to their doctors and make sure they get it, and that's the wrong thing to do.

ZAHN: So let's go back to the Senate (INAUDIBLE). There are a bunch of Senate offices that were closed because of potential exposure - the ventilation system in the building to these anthrax spores. You're saying unless you test positive for exposure to it, these senators have made the wrong decision.

DR. GARNER: I believe so. I think that the country is looking to them for leadership, and they're looking to see - if a senator is going to take it, well why shouldn't I take it, and the truth is that the people that aren't taking it are doing the right thing.

Yes, you want to be cautious. If you think you've been exposed, if there's any chance you want to get in to be examined.

ZAHN: Then come down and clog up your emergency (INAUDIBLE).

DR. GARNER: And that's what we're here for - for that kind of a patient. And there are tests we can do. There are chest x-rays that are typical for it. So there are ways that we can differentiate it from the common cold. Anthrax has been around a long time.

It was one of the -- one of the 10 plagues that the pharaoh was inflicted with. But it's not a good drug if you want to -- a good way to kill a lot of people. It's a very ineffective way to do that. One person has died so far. Think about all the people storming emergency rooms that might get hit by a car or get mugged.

Many things in life ...

ZAHN: Or you die from a serious case of flu, which ...


DR. GARNER: Or die from reaction to Cipro, which is - which is a possibility.

ZAHN: Well it's a very good warning. I think a good one for us all to hear as there seems to be a sense of panic in the city as we've seen - it confirmed that there have been anthrax laced letters sent to various news organizations ...

DR. GARNER: There's a group of passengers on the Staten Island fairy coming from Manhattan to Staten Island -- two nights ago 40 patients went to the St. Vincent Staten Island facility because they thought they saw some dust in the fairy.

ZAHN: (INAUDIBLE) Dr. Garner, thanks so much for dropping by this morning.

DR. GARNER: Thank you.

ZAHN: Appreciate you coming into the studio.




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