NEWS

Test Run of Postal Service Anthrax Response Teams Scheduled For May

By Carlton Purvis

The United States Postal Service (USPS) has the capability to deliver mail to every residential address in the country. Cities are harnessing that capability to provide a way to rapidly distribute medicine to a large areas in a short amount of time. This summer, postal workers will deliver empty pill bottles to homes in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area in its first live test of a program designed to provide a first dose of antibiotics to residents in the event of a widespread biological attack.

The National Postal Model for the Delivery of Medical Countermeasures has been in the works for years. Boston, Philadelphia, San Diego, and Louisville, Kentucky have all received grants to start initial planning. Minneapolis-St. Paul is the first metro area in the country to have enough volunteers, funding, and planning to establish a fully developed system.

Dubbed Operation Medicine Delivery, Minnesota mail carriers, escorted by a member of law enforcement, will deliver empty pill bottles to 35,000 mailing addresses in four zip codes on Sunday, May 6th. The purpose of the test is to see how fast postal teams can deliver medicine to homes in an emergency.

“Minnesota has really taken the initiative with this plan,” an official from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said by phone on Thursday.

The hope is that in that event of an anthrax attack, a volunteer corps of mail carriers from local post offices can be deployed within 48 hours to deliver the antibiotic doxycycline to residents. Untreated inhalation of anthrax has a 90 percent mortality rate, but deaths from anthrax can be drastically reduced if antibiotics are started within 48 hours (the mortality rate drops to 75 percent if treated).

One hundred eighty volunteer carriers, each covering two routes, could distribute required medicines to 575,000 people in 205,000 Minneapolis-St. Paul households in a nine-hour day, according to past estimates. The program in Minnesota already has more than 300 volunteers. In the event of a real emergency, 3.2 million people in the metro area would need antibiotics. However, in a real emergency, medicine distribution centers would be set up to complement postal delivery.

During the exercise, "People will get an empty bottle, similar to what would be used in the real thing. There'll be an information sheet explaining what it's all about, that it's just a test to see how well it works," Peter Nowacki, USPS spokesman in Minneapolis told CIDRAP News.

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