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Suppose there were an anthrax attack, and suppose you had antibiotics...

February 19, 2010 |  6:13 pm

CLEANUP Such is the scenario recently presented to a national sample of Americans by Harvard University researchers ....

First, respondents were told to imagine that some residents of their town had become ill from what was believed to be inhalation anthrax, that some had died, and that many more likely had been exposed.

Understandably, 83% said they would be very or somewhat worried that they could become seriously ill or die. 

Then respondents were told to imagine that health officials were offering free antibiotics to all, that the antibiotics needed to be taken within 48 hours by those truly exposed, and that the drugs would be available at a site only 20 minutes away.

Understandably again, 89% said they would be very or somewhat likely to get themselves to a dispensing site.

But here's what concerns researchers: More than a third of those who bothered to get the pills said they would probably just hold on to them -- you know, to see if they really needed them.

We have been warning about the dangers of overusing antibiotics, it's true, but ....

Here's the news release, with plenty of details; the poll questions and results; and a few related charts.

The poll was conducted to help federal officials plan an effective public health response to a potential bioterrorism attack. There may be more planning left to do than officials thought.

And speaking of anthrax, there's this today:

FBI closes deadly 2001 anthrax-letters case, concluding federal scientist Ivins acted alone

-- Tami Dennis

Photo: Members of the U.S. Marine Corps' Chemical-Biological Incident Response Force demonstrate anthrax cleanup techniques during a news conference in on Capitol Hill in 2001.

Credit: Associated Press