"Our first line of defense" and "The Devil's playthings"

By Salon Staff

Published October 19, 2001 5:58PM (EDT)

Read "Our First Line of Defense," an interview with Laurie Garrett.

Ms. Garrett says that Cipro shouldn't be used in treating anthrax, that physicians ought to prescribe penicillin instead. However, everything I've read claims that Cipro is the only treatment for pulmonary anthrax that is authorized by the FDA. So, if the working theory is that all of these exposed individuals may have inhaled anthrax spores, and if we have a 90 percent fatality rate if antibiotics aren't given before symptoms show, and if the FDA says Cipro is the antibiotic to use ... well, it seems disingenuous and perhaps even incredibly ridiculous to recommend these people take penicillin. Which of us is going to gamble with our lives thusly, if we know we've been exposed?

If indeed penicillin or other antibiotics are effective against pulmonary anthrax, then why hasn't the FDA approved them as a treatment? It seems like that would be a necessary first step before making the recommendations Ms. Garrett has.

-- Jason Preiser

Laurie Garrett makes many good points in her discussion of anthrax and bioterrorism. However, as a physician I would disagree with her recommendation to not use Cipro as firstline therapy against anthrax. Standard medical practice is to assume resistance to standard antibiotics initially, treat with a broad spectrum drug only until the bacterial identification is complete. If the bug is sensitive to a simpler, less expensive drug, switch to that. The risk of using something like penicillin first is that if the bug is resistant, the person may die before you have identified your mistake. Certainly Cipro use should be minimized overall to prevent antibiotic resistance in large populations.

-- Eric Geller, M.D.

Read "The Devil's Playthings," an interview with Michael Cuneo.

I am troubled that Cuneo's avowed skepticism may devalue the forces at work in the rituals he observes. He may have too much the instinct of the debunker, when we may need another skill set to fully evaluate what is going on here.

Cuneo is a privileged witness to a fascinating conjunction of theatre, ritual, myth and modernity, and I can't escape the impression there is something about his investigation that smacks of psychic slumming.

Of COURSE everything that Cuneo saw could be explained scientifically, and could "be accounted for in rational, secular terms." But shouldn't we be disappointed if that were the most interesting lesson with which we walked away from this profound kind of event?

Post-Carl Jung, can we not see the value of a communal experience and ritual which eliminates, or at least addresses, an invisible invader? When irony or intellectual distance is no escape from the demands of your soul, will you have a group to applaud, chant your name, remind you why you are doing what you are doing, help to purge the demon that haunts you?

-- Joseph Farmer

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