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Anthrax questions fielded at information session

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- Around 50 members of the MIT community attended an information session on bioterrorism in the MIT Medical building Tuesday. Dr. David V. Diamond, chief of medicine at the MIT Medical Department, and Dr. Howard M. Heller fielded questions about anthrax, how best to handle the mail, where antibiotics would come from if they were needed and what the Institute is doing to guard against terrorism.

They also provided information on the two incidents Tuesday in which suspicious powders were reported by people in buildings 14 and 19. The second report, at the Human Resources Department, was felt to be a false alarm, probably construction dust on the outside of an envelope from a known person, according to Diamond.

The hour-long meeting also was attended by members of the MIT Emergency Response Team and the Safety Office.

"It was a good interchange of people seeking information," Diamond said. "There were no overriding emotions. People seemed in control."

Heller spoke briefly about the nature of anthrax and the types of risk associated with being exposed to the disease through the mail. This would lead to primarily a skin infection, he said, which is easily recognizable and treatable. Diamond explained the reasoning behind MIT Medical's guideline of only prescribing antibiotics for documented infections.

While MIT officials await notification from the state on the samples that were sent out yesterday, Diamond emphasized that the probability of the powder being anthrax is "quite low. Given the characteristics of the mailings in the few documented anthrax cases, these particular envelopes were not the type of envelopes used."

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