IN LATE NOVEMBER TWO things happened that revived my flagging interest in bioterrorism. The first was news that at least two more people had died of random anthrax infection—apparently contracted via cross-contamination of mail—and that tens of thousands of other pieces of mail might bear traces of the bug. The second was that I came down with a mild case of influenza. Sitting in front of the tube, loopy and listless from Tylenol and Actifed, I tried and failed to ward off the darkest of speculations. The news was full of reminders that anthrax starts with flulike symptoms. If the lethal spores had shown up in Connecticut, why not Dallas? I wondered. Could it possibly be … ?
Fortunately, my fever broke before I found myself rushing off to the Parkland Memorial Hospital emergency room in my robe and slippers. My illness had been nothing more than an ordinary flu bug—albeit one that had gotten past whatever the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had put in the flu vaccine last year. But I realized that, even after absorbing the saturation coverage about bioterrorism, I did not know very much about the real risks involved and I would have absolutely no idea what to do if I truly believed I had anthrax. So I did a little poking around and tried to do what the networks chose not to do: offer some plain-sense advice about the disease.
Don’t call your HMO. Or, I should say, don’t call mine. When I did, to inquire about whether they’d cover anthrax screening for me if I had flulike symptoms, one woman said, “You know, you’re