|Postal workers told to take Cipro alternative|
By Chris Baltimore
WASHINGTON, Oct 28 (Reuters) - Some U.S. postal workers have started to take an antibiotic called doxycycline, a less expensive alternative to the anthrax medicine Cipro, after getting the green light over the weekend from federal health officials, the U.S. Postal Service said.
The postal service took action after getting an advisory on Saturday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Washington, D.C., Department of Health, a USPS spokesman said on Sunday.
Studies ``support the use of doxycycline as the drug of choice ... both for newly identified individuals and for completion of the course in those previously started on (Cipro),'' the CDC said in an advisory issued late on Saturday to area postal workers on its Washington Web site.
``They (federal health officials) made an announcement that that's what they're providing for postal service employees,'' a USPS spokesman said.
Only ``a small fraction'' of the estimated 6,000 Capitol-area workers on medication after possible exposure to anthrax had begun taking the new drug, the spokesman said. ``It's just a matter of what they provide.''
``Doxycycline has less side effects and is more readily available ... so they made the switch to doxycycline,'' the USPS spokesman said.
Two postal workers at the Brentwood facility in Washington, which processes mail for the U.S. Capitol, contracted inhalation anthrax and died, apparently after handling or being near a tainted letter sent to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle.
Anthrax tests are nearly ubiquitous at federal government sites after traces of the potentially fatal bacteria turned up in remote mail facilities that serve the White House, State Department, Supreme Court and CIA.
Anthrax has killed three people and infected at least 11 others in the United States. Thousands of people have been tested or treated for the rare disease since the Sept. 11 air attacks on the United States.
Miami-based Ivax Corp. (AMEX:IVX - news) said on Friday it would supply the U.S. government with more than 1.2 billion doxycycline tablets as federal health officials build a national stockpile of drugs to treat anthrax.
That announcement came after the government signed a deal with Bayer last Wednesday to supply 100 million tablets of Cipro.
Scientists have praised doxycycline as a cheaper drug with fewer possible side effects than Cipro, the brand-name drug made by German firm Bayer AG .
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said doxycycline was being recommended now because it had fewer side effects than Cipro, the antibiotic first prescribed to those affected.
``It's more available. It's potentially less toxic ... and it's much more inexpensive, Fauci told CNN's ''Late Edition."
Fauci echoed comments by CDC Director Jeffrey Koplan on Friday. Although Cipro has become a ``panacea'' for curing anthrax, the CDC would ``recommend it in the same breath as doxycycline, which would be just as good,'' Koplan said on a phone conference with reporters.
Bayer last week agreed to sell Cipro to the government at a steep discount of 95 cents per tablet for its branded product. That figure is still double the over-the-counter price of doxycycline, which normally sells for between 45 cents and 50 cents each in drugstores.
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson has said the government aims to compile enough anthrax treatments to treat 12 million people over a 60-day period.
Many antibiotics are taken twice a day, meaning at least 1.44 billion pills would be needed for the stockpile.