Technology has come a long way in the past decade. Information is incredibly accessible and almost instantaneous in the world we live in today. Email has grown a ton; everybody has an address and some have multiple. Although the internet has dangers such as scammers, viruses, and hackers, real mail is where the danger lies; mail has been used as a method to spread anthrax in an act of bioterrorism.
Anthrax is a bacterial disease caused by Bacillus anthracis. It is actually not contagious in the sense that it cannot be spread from human to human simply by direct or indirect contact; instead, spore uptake is the only way anthrax can spread. Don’t let noncontagious nature of anthrax fool you; it is still quite deadly despite the apparent lack of transmissibility. Anthrax spores can enter the body through inhalation, consumption, or contact with skin lesions. Spores are found either in the environment or in contaminated animal products from infected livestock.
The anthrax spore is frightening because the spores can lay dormant in the environment for decades. Once taken into the body, the spore then activates and causes harmful symptoms. The cutaneous version of anthrax causes black blisters and sores. Other versions of anthrax cause fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, headache, and sometimes death. Anthrax caused by inhalation is the most deadly form; the fatality rate is 80%.
Anthrax is well known by us because of its use as an agent of bioterrorism. Since the anthrax spores can lay dormant and be easily delivered via inhalation, it can be sent via letter and is difficult to detect. Additionally, anthrax is not too difficult to acquire or isolate, making anthrax a suitable and realistic choice.
In 2001 following the September 11 terrorist attacks, letters laced with anthrax were sent to U.S. government officials and media offices. Anthrax spores were placed in the letter so those who opened the letter would inhale the spores and get infected. This attack infected 22 people and killed 5 of the infected. Thankfully, the attack was not large scale. However, the difficult detection and high mortality still made anthrax a scary threat.
Since the 2001 attacks, there actually hasn’t been that many anthrax attacks. There are many hoaxes and false alarms, but incidents of actual anthrax attacks have been nonexistent. This is due to the new security measures taken by the postal service; preparedness for the potential threat of an anthrax attack make it much more difficult to be successful.
Conclusion: Mail probably won’t kill you, but email definitely won’t kill you. Use at your own risk.
A picture of one of the letters laced with anthrax from the 2001 attack.