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The news and events of the past years have increased the public's awareness of chemical and biological terrorism and have heightened concerns about personal safety. The following information regarding frequently asked questions is provided by the Orange County Health Care Agency to provide guidance and factual information on appropriate measures to increase personal and family preparedness.

Routine smallpox vaccinations were discontinued in the 1970s after the disease was eradicated. Vaccine is not currently available to the public. A supply of smallpox vaccine would be sent to affected areas if an outbreak occurs and would be used to protect citizens and emergency workers. Routine vaccination is not recommended because the vaccine may cause serious side effects and there is no natural risk of exposure. Health authorities will recommend vaccination only if there is clear evidence that the disease has resurfaced and residents of the U.S. are at risk of being infected.

The form of anthrax that health authorities are most concerned about is inhalational anthrax, which occurs when a person breathes in anthrax spores. Anthrax vaccine is not available to the general public. Inhalational anthrax is not contagious, so it does not spread from person to person. Healthy people who come into contact with persons sick with inhalational anthrax cannot acquire the disease. It can be treated with antibiotics. In the event of an outbreak, there are plans in place to provide antibiotics to those exposed to the disease. Should you have any specific concerns, you should talk with your physician.

There's no reason for stockpiling antibiotics. Many antibiotics are effective for a variety of diseases, but there is no antibiotic that is effective against all diseases. Because antibiotics can cause side effects, they should only be taken with medical supervision. Antibiotics also have a limited "shelf life" before they lose their strength.

Intentional contamination of the water supply is thought to be highly unlikely. Water treatment facilities routinely filter the drinking water supply, add chlorine in order to kill harmful germs and regularly test for contaminants.

There are many types of masks or ventilators, but no one type protects against all chemicals or germs. In addition, "gas" masks can cause serious injury or even death when used improperly, especially among people with certain lung problems. "Gas" masks purchased at surplus stores or off the Internet carry no guarantees that they will work.

Be alert to your own health and that of your family. Report any unusual symptoms or illnesses immediately to your health care provider. To prepare for potential emergencies or disasters, including events like earthquakes, families should keep some basic emergency supplies at home. The American Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency offer information regarding family emergency preparedness.

Given the recent events, it is understandable for citizens to feel anxious. If your anxiety keeps you from doings the things you would normally do, it might be helpful to talk with someone. Your health care provider can make a referral if you do not already have a counselor or mental health professional in mind.

Frequently Asked Questions prepared by the County of Orange Health Care Agency