Twenty Years After the Bed Illness, We Were Not Prepared

It was always Larry Bush arrives at the gurney at the JFK Medical Center emergency room in Atlantis, Florida, a suburb of Miami to West Palm Beach. Bush was the chief of the hospital staff and the chief of the infectious disease, on his way to the morning meetings, but some ER doctors asked him to go. A 63-year-old boy named Bob Stevens was brought in at about 2:30 a.m. with a severe fever. Now he was unconscious and entered a respirator, with his nervous wife beside him.

The woman told Bush their story. As he recalls later, he said he lives far away from the sea. Her husband worked for Boca Raton at a supermarket company, but had been out for a week, visiting their daughter. She became ill the day before on her long trip home, and had not slept since she arrived. He woke her up in the middle of the night, just wandering around the house, confused.

Fever, convulsions, sudden fall: This was reported by Bush as meningitis, a disease of the spinal cord around the spine and brain that could be caused by a number of organisms. She went to the hospital lab to see the results of the test, and was found looking at a microscope on the unexpected to see: a string of glittering bacilli in the middle.

Bush recognized the plan, but did not understand. The disease is a body that is considered to be so rare that it has occurred in the United States at least 20 times over a century, and among low-income people – herdsmen and drummers, not photographers in Florida.

He told himself, “If it’s anthrax, it’s bioterrorism until he proves something else.”

That was October 2, 2001. It took two days for Bush’s suspicions to be substantiated. When his illness was announced at a press conference on October 4—20 years ago today – it created the most complex and public health issues in U.S. history to date, competing today and trying to respond to Covid.

You can’t turn on a laptop or turn on the news three weeks ago without commemorating the 20th anniversary of the World Trade Center attack on September 11, 2001. When Bush announced the killing of five people, he made 17 others sick, sent 30,000 people to doctors, put 10,000 of them on antibiotics, and fainted Capitol Hill and the New York state media.

But people who took action in response at the time, including Bush – who continues to work as an infectious disease specialist at the hospital where Stevens died – say the eagles provided difficult training that would have helped Covid’s response be remembered. “What worked well was our ability to identify immediately, I say this,” said Bush, who is an associate professor of medicine at Florida Atlantic University and the University of Miami. “But we are not better prepared now than we were at the time.”

A brief review, even if you have something as complicated as anthrax is hard to summarize: Stevens was not the first; he was the only one present. Anthrax was sent by mail in September and October. All those involved were in contact with spore letters sent to Congress offices by the press, or were exposed after spreading spores in mailboxes and contaminating other mail, workplaces, and homes.

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