Suffolk prepared if anthrax arrives

PUBLISHED: 13:00 18 October 2001 | UPDATED: 10:41 03 March 2010

EVEN though there is no definite evidence that the reported cases of anthrax are linked to Osama bin Laden, the free world views the cases reported in America as a little bit more than coincidence. But in Suffolk health officials are confident they could cope if the county was targeted.

EVEN though there is no definite evidence that the reported cases of anthrax are linked to Osama bin Laden the free world views the cases reported in America as a little bit more than coincidence.

How would we cope in Suffolk if fears ever do become a reality?

THE wheels of the Suffolk emergency plans department are always ready to turn whenever a crisis looms.

They were mobilised when serious flooding occurred in the area and again with the outbreak of foot and mouth disease. The fuel crisis of last year also saw the plan put into action.

Working on a cater-for-anything system the "all hazards approach" is what the set up is all about and even though he cannot disclose much of the plan, Jeff Stacey, the county emergency plans officer knows it inside and out.

His is a full-time, permanent job where he constantly reviews, tests and upgrades the system – just in case.

"The role of my department is on the recovery side of things. The emergency services and the departments of health would enforce the plan of action and we would decide on the resources to put in.

"Everything set in place for the emergency plan is very much mix and match because until you are presented with a situation you cannot say what is required to deal with it.

"But we have thorough knowledge of how we will react when we know what we have to cope with whether it be more flooding problems or acts of terrorism," he added.

For obvious reasons of security Mr Stacey would not disclose details of how the emergency plan would work but he did say that his role could involve finding suitable alternative accommodation.

Also there are procedures available to set up the evacuation of any numbers of people for a wide variety of purposes.

"People in the UK have been concerned but there has not been any incidences here of anthrax although there has been scares.

"There is always a terrorist threat and there is always procedures in place to put into action should they be needed," Mr Stacey said.

"With the recent incidences people's perceptions have been heightened so now is possibly the time for everyone to take advantage of the procedures by being reassured that there is protection available," he added.

Mr Stacey said that only general information is available to us members of the public but we shouldn't look on that as though the authorities are being secretive.

To know there is a wide plan to cover all eventualities should be reassuring and to find out also that there has long been on-going vigilance with regard to germ and chemical warfare is no bad thing either.

Suffolk police also say that the emergency plans are well rehearsed and there is strong liaison with all other emergency services.

Force spokesman, Simon Stevens, said: "We see what the situation is and then put the plans into action depending on what is required. None of the finer details of what happens and how it works are released outside of those who need to know but we are fully confident that if needed it will work well," he added.

Asking the all important question that is gradually becoming widely asked, Mr Stevens said what we should do if we feel concerned about a possible dodgy package in the post or anything that just does not feel right?

His reply was: "call us."

But at times when nerves feel a bit frayed even the most innocent of things can take on a sinister appearance and so we could over react and he urged everyone to keep calm and try and assess the situation calmly.

We should try and see if there is anything definite that is making us feel uncomfortable.

Not every envelope or package with either an unidentifiable postmark or one that is new to us is going to be holding something untoward so don't panic by calling 999 straight away.

Mr Stevens, said: "Exercise caution with anything you are unhappy about and if you feel genuine concern about any letter, package or even a vehicle, please telephone 999.

"All the authorities are on heightened alert and will treat every call seriously but the main thing to remember is not to panic," he added.

With one death and other confirmed cases of anthrax in America it was not surprising that alerts would spread to the UK.

On Tuesday decontamination units were sent to various London locations and in Liverpool where substance leaking from a package was discovered to be sand.

Whether there is some hoaxer making a deliberate attempt of promoting fear is still unknown but Scotland Yard said there has been "no specific threat" of biological or chemical attacks on our country.

The Department of Health is preparing new guidance for NHS staff to help them deal with public concerns over anthrax.

Staff would also be advised on how to recognise and treat the disease as well as allay the worries of members of the public who are not surprisingly frightened by the recent spate of cases in America.

ANTHRAX is most common in agricultural regions and most cases are due to occupational exposure.

In March this year the MoD announced its intention to resume offering the anthrax immunisation to military and civilian personnel in the Gulf region.

This is something that American military has had in operation for some time.

The disease has occurred naturally in wild livestock in the United States.

Anthrax comes in three forms: cutaneous – through the skin – by inhalation and gastrointestinal, through consumption.

The spores can live in the soil for many years and humans can become infected by handling products which are contaminated.

Symptoms of the disease – which is not easy to pass on from person to person – vary according to how it was contracted but they usually present themselves within seven days.

Cutaneous: About 95 per cent of cases are contracted through an abrasion or cut in the skin. A symptom could be a raised itchy bump resembling an insect bite which would change to a painless ulcer. Treatment is with antibiotics.

Inhalation: Symptoms may resemble a common cold but develop into severe breathing problems.

Intestinal: A characteristic is acute inflammation of the intestinal tract, with nausea, loss of appetite, vomiting and fever.

Experiencing any of the above symptoms however does not mean that anthrax is the cause.


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