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Study: U.S. Anthrax-Letter Victims Suffered Long-Term Health Problems

Posted - Apr. 27, 2004 at 3:20 p.m.



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CHICAGO, April 27 (AFP) - US postal workers sickened in the anthrax-by-mail attacks of late 2001 struggled with medical and psychological complications for at least a year afterwards, according to a study released Tuesday.

Half of the survivors were still not back at work a year after they were infected with the deadly chemical agent, and many reported chronic health problems that could not be explained by their medical records.

Public health researchers who were investigating the long-term health effects of bioterror attacks said the complaints included respiratory problems, joint pain, fatigue, memory loss, depression and anxiety among others.

Five people died and another 17 were infected in late 2001 when anthrax-laced letters were sent to the offices of congressional leaders in Washington, newsrooms in New York City and a supermarket tabloid's Florida headquarters.

The attacks, coming on the heels of the September 11 attacks on the United States, paralyzed the postal system with authentic and false anthrax scares.

But it also took a long-term toll of the survivors' health and quality of life, according to researchers with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia.

The researchers conducted follow-up interviews with 15 of the 16 survivors, and reviewed all of their medical records, to investigate the little-known long-term effects of anthrax infection.

They concluded that the health problems, psychological distress and lack of functional capacity observed in the 17 survivors was similar to that seen in other trauma victims, and could possibly be a result of post-traumatic stress disorder.

"Our findings support those of other studies in the United States in which terrorism has led to significant chronic physical and mental health problems," they wrote in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Any future treatment program for terror victims would require co-ordinated psychiatric and medical care and rehabilitation in order to minimize "functional impairment" and improve "health-related quality of life."

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COPYRIGHT 2004 Agence France-Presse. All rights reserved.

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