Biological warfare hits America's shores
Published 1:07 am Wednesday, October 24, 2001
The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt
In late 1990 and early 1991, as the United States and her coalition allies were engaged in driving Saddam Hussein and his Republican Guard from the kingdom of Kuwait, a very prominent fear in the minds of both Americans and citizens from around the world was the threat that Iraq would engage in the use of biological and chemical weapons to defeat the West.
Fortunately for the United States, we did not experience first hand what these weapons could do, although Saddam Hussein did use chemical weapons on the Kurdish population in northern Iraq.
Now, ten years later, we are engaged in another conflict in the Middle East and the threat of biological and chemical warfare is again on our minds.
This time, however, this type of germ warfare is being utilized by a group or groups of terrorists who, as of yet, have not been identified.
There are answers available
I don't think that there are any of us in the United States who have not by now heard the word anthrax. It is a word that confuses some, terrifies many, and causes a great deal of uncertainty in all of us.
The truth of the matter is that anthrax is very controllable and, when caught early enough, poses no significant health threat.
Like many of you, I wasn't even sure what anthrax was when I first heard about the exposure to the newspaper staffers in Florida. However, as more and more cases were revealed, ranging from major news networks to the halls of Congress, I did a little checking.
I have found that, while it is certainly a cause for concern and a reason for each of us to take some extra precautions, it is very treatable and, when found early enough, nearly always curable.
In addition, we should stop and consider the number of occurrences we have seen in the past several days.
I recently heard an interesting statistic from a member of the United States Postal Service Inspectors office who briefed my staff on the issue of mail safety. Since September 11th, over sixteen billion pieces of mail have been delivered by the post office. Out of that sizable total, we have seen fewer than ten that have contained the virus.
Those are pretty good odds. In fact, you stand a much better chance of winning the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes or the Florida State Lottery than contracting anthrax through the mail.
The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia has issued a very informative question-and-answer paper on anthrax with topics ranging from where it is found to who is at risk to contract this illness.
I would encourage each of you to visit the CDCs website and review this information for yourselves. The paper can be accessed by clicking your web browser or search engine to www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dbmd/diseaseinfo/anthrax_g.htm. For those of you who dont have access to the internet, please call my Mobile office at (800)288-8721, and my staff will be glad to send you a copy.
A final reassurance
At the end of last week, the Speaker of the House and members of the leadership from both sides of the aisle made the decision to adjourn the House for several days as a safety precaution and to give environmental crews the chance to do a thorough sweep of all House offices.
Initially, there was some isolated criticism that this action demonstrated fear by the House, and that the government had come to a standstill while members of Congress made a run for the hills.
Indeed, nothing could be further from the truth.
The government is functioning today just as it was before the discovery of anthrax on Capitol Hill, and it will continue to function the same tomorrow and next week.
The only difference is that rather than walking next door to a colleague's office, or taking the Capitol subway to speak on the House floor, we now have to conduct business via fax and phone.
In addition, this precaution was taken not just for the benefit of Congress and our staffs, but for the thousands of tourists who visit our nations capital each day.
Washington is not my city or the presidents city, a Republican city or Democrat city. It is an American city, and these safeguards have been taken to protect those who hold the deed to our seat of democracy.
These are indeed frightening times for the nation. However, we would be well served to remember President Roosevelt's quote, and to keep in mind that we will conquer our fear, we will defeat our enemies, and we will preserve our freedom.
May God bless each of you in the time ahead, your friends and neighbors, the president, and most importantly, may God bless America..