New guidelines for treating possible anthrax patients have led the University to use Student Health Services as the first contact for evaluating students.
Now that new Center for Disease Control guidelines discourage the use of nasal swab tests, Student Health Services will begin evaluating and treating any students who were in high-risk areas where anthrax spores are found. The GW Hospital will continue to test students with symptoms.
So far, no GW student, staff or faculty member has tested positive for anthrax exposure or shown symptoms of the bacteria, Vice President of Communications Michael Friedman said in a town meeting Wednesday night.
Student Health will treat students following the new CDC guidelines, which include prescribing antibiotics such as doxycycline without using a nasal swab test.
Five students concerned about anthrax exposure called Student Health Monday and three called on Tuesday, said Dr. Isabel Goldenberg, director of Student Health.
Goldenberg said two patients were evaluated at Student Health, but none has been issued antibiotics and no one has been sent to GW Hospital.
Goldenberg said there is a fast track for evaluating anthrax-like sickness at the GW Hospital. Individuals who go to the emergency room can usually be treated within one to one-and-a-half hours, she said.
The hospital has tested about 100 people this week in addition to the 500 previously tested. It also has admitted six people and discharged four since last week, as anthrax scares in the D.C. area continue with the discovery of spores in more local buildings.
Goldenberg said if someone feels they have symptoms, the hospital would need “a complete work-up” to detect the presence of anthrax bacteria. The work-up includes taking blood cultures, spinal fluid cultures, x-rays and white blood cell counts to detect anthrax in patients who exhibit symptoms.
The hospital no longer performs a nasal swab test because of CDC recommendations. According to the CDC, the test is ineffective for detecting exposure because it only tests for spores in the nose. A person without spores present in the nasal cavity could still be exposed to anthrax.
She said the hospital and Student Health are treating people based on whether anthrax spores were detected in areas to which they might have been exposed.
Tests showed traces of anthrax spores at five more government buildings on Monday, according to The Washington Post.
Spores were detected in mailrooms at the Supreme Court building, the State Department, an Agriculture Department agency, a building with Health and Human Services offices in Southwest and a building used by the Food and Drug Administration.
“The picture is changing every day as anthrax is detected in more buildings in the area,” Goldenberg said.
Several other GW students have been tested at federal field testing locations near the Senate and the Capitol, said internship advisor Susan Wiley, a political science professor.
“I have been contacted by five interns that have been tested. They do not seem to be scared, and no students have asked to switch their intern placements,” Wiley said.
She said three interns were at the Hart Senate Office building, one at the White House and one at the Department of Labor. Wiley said all have tested negative.
“These are pretty scary times, but I think that when people are 20 or 21 years old they think they’re immortal,” Wiley said.
The University held a town meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday to address the effect of anthrax on the GW community.
Dr. David Parenti, a GW Hospital epidemiologist, said there is no need for exaggerated concern because the exposure at sites in which anthrax has been detected is not substantial and the number of infections is not large.
“I don’t think I am at risk, and I don’t think (students) are any different from me,” Parenti said. “There is some concern about bulk mail handlers, but it doesn’t seem like there have been many real infections at those sites.”