By Jonathan Landreth
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Pharmacists in New York have sold greater than normal amounts of antibiotics for treating anthrax amid rising fear of biological warfare after the attacks on the World Trade Center.
Though sales of antibiotics normally rise anyway in September, when children return to school and parents are concerned about their exposure to infections, pharmacists said that sales of Bayer's antimicrobial drug Cipro (ciprofloxacin) are much higher than usual.
"We're hearing that Cipro is a front-line defense against anthrax and in the last couple of days I've sold about a month's worth," said Barry Reiter, chief operating officer of Brooklyn-based Remo Drug Corp., one of the largest independent pharmaceutical supply companies in America. "Today we'll be out of stock and we've already reordered," Reiter said Tuesday.
Sylvia Lifshitz, a pharmacist at independent Drug Mart on Manhattan's Upper East Side, normally prescribes about 300 Cipro tablets in a 2- to 3-week period. Over the first weekend after the World Trade Center attacks, however, Lifshitz dispensed about 1000 Cipro tablets in 3 days. The dosage to treat anthrax is two pills a day for 60 days.
"I've never done that before," Lifshitz said, adding that most of her customers have been "highly educated and highly neurotic."
Lifshitz ordered extra Cipro, which costs about $1 a tablet, after New York physicians began prescribing it for themselves and their families. She currently has a stock of about 1200 pills in the store, even though she is uncertain of its efficacy against anthrax.
Robert Berman, co-owner of Kings Pharmacy, which has six stores in New York City, including one near the World Trade Center, said he has also seen a large rise in requests for Cipro. "I had one guy come in and buy a 2-month supply for him and his wife," said Berman.
Chain drug store Rite Aid Corp., which has 30 stores in Manhattan, said it had not noticed an unusual rise in sales of Cipro.
Cipro is not the only antibiotic available for treatment of inhaled microbes. Generic doxycycline, usually prescribed to prevent traveler's diarrhea, is another antimicrobial drug that normally sees a rise in sales in September.
"People are panicking, and we've had more than the usual number of inquiries about doxycycline, too," said pharmacist Gary Halpern at the Caligor Pharmacy on Manhattan's Upper East Side.
David Siegrist, a research fellow and the director of studies for the Countering Biological Terrorism program at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies in Arlington, Virginia, said there is a reason for doctors to choose Cipro first.
"It's believed that terrorists could make their anthrax resistant to doxycyline, but Cipro is more complicated," Siegrist said. He said that Cipro is the antimicrobial drug of choice for the US military, which bought doses for the troops that served in the Gulf War in 1991. "It wouldn't hurt to have a little Cipro on hand now," Siegrist said.
Pharmacists need not fear of a supply shortage, said Bayer, which makes the drug in a plant in West Haven, Connecticut, as well as in Europe. "We've got no supply issues at this point and people should rest assured that we have been working with the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and the Department of Defense for over a year," said spokesman Rob Kloppenburg.