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Switzerland stocks up following disease outbreaks in US

Boris Banga, the president of the national security commission Keystone Archive

Following several diagnosed and suspected anthrax cases in the United States, the Swiss authorities have built up their reserves of antibiotics which treat anthrax, and they are also storing reserves of the smallpox vaccine.

This content was published on October 24, 2001 - 07:54

At a press conference in Bern, Boris Banga, the president of the national security commission, said Switzerland was well prepared for any biological terrorism.

His comments came after a special session of the commission to discuss the consequences of the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

Smallpox

He said Switzerland had stockpiled more than six million doses of the smallpox vaccine and had ordered a further 4.5 million.

Smallpox was eradicated in the late seventies following years of intensive and widespread vaccination and no inoculations have been given since 1977.

But now interest in the vaccine has increased because of fears that the deadly virus could be used in a biological attack. If such a thing happened it is estimated that 30 to 50 per cent of the population would be affected.

The vaccine provides protection for up to three years.

Anthrax

However, Switzerland is not just concentrating its efforts on Smallpox, but is also taking the threat of anthrax seriously. Authorities are building up reserves of antibiotics that could treat the disease if people become exposed to the bacterial spores.

Currently, two months' worth of antibiotics are available but Banga said there are measures in place to produce another four months' worth of drugs if needed.

In light of the increased risk of biological attacks, with more than 12 confirmed cases of anthrax in the US, the commission said it was necessary to educate people about the diseases and their symptoms.

Earlier this week, six letters containing suspicious white powder were sent to offices in canton Ticino in southeastern Switzerland. Three of the letters were "false alarms", authorities said, and tests are under way on the remaining three. Everyone who came in contact with the suspicious envelopes is undergoing medical tests.

"The risk of anthrax contamination is practically nonexistent," said Lieutenant Luca Bieri of the cantonal police. "But there is a real danger of a wave of false alarms, which create anguish among the population."

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