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Air Force News

Anthrax veteran says vaccine 'no big deal'

Released: 10 Mar 1999


by Lance Cpl. Eric Cantu
Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION YUMA, Ariz. (AFPN) -- As a boy growing up on a cattle ranch in Kimberly, Idaho, 9-year-old Mark A. Hughes would often watch his father, a veterinarian, give their cattle a variety of shots to protect them from various diseases. While his father took the time to protect his cattle, he also vaccinated his family against the fatal anthrax bacteria common to the livestock industry. That boy, now a Marine, rubbed his arm and dashed off to explore the ranch, forgetting all about the shot.

When Staff Sgt. Mark A. Hughes, Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron-13's substance abuse counselor, told his mother recently that he was to get the anthrax vaccination, she reminded him that he had already received the shot as a boy. As far as Hughes is concerned, the reservations some service members have about the shot are unfounded.

"I'm still here. I don't have any cancer. I'm not dying. It doesn't cause sterility. And that's a fact -- I have five children," said Hughes. "It's really no big deal."

Since Secretary of Defense William Cohen ordered all military personnel to receive the anthrax vaccination, controversy and fears have risen about the vaccine's safety. Those concerns and fears are fueled by unsubstantiated reports posted on the Internet or put forth by groups with their own agenda.

The vaccine was licensed by the Food and Drug Administration in 1970 after years of extensive scientific experiments and tests which yielded no conclusive evidence that the vaccine causes long-term side effects or health problems. The vaccine has been administered to countless veterinarians, laboratory workers and livestock workers for more than 20 years.

It has been 34 years since Hughes received his first anthrax shot, long enough to prove to him that there are no long-term effects to worry about. Not only is Hughes healthy and "very fertile," his entire family has received the vaccinations and are just as healthy.

"All my brothers and sisters are married and have children. We all have 10 toes and 10 fingers," said Hughes. He said he has never heard of any health problems with any of them.

While the deadly bacillus anthracis bacteria has been mostly eradicated in the United States, military members are more likely to face a form of the disease produced by hostile countries. Inhalation anthrax is a man-made biological weapon with the same horrible symptoms as the form that affects livestock, said Lt. Cmdr. Cynthia Heins, Marine Aircraft Group-13 group surgeon.

According to Heins, within the first 24 hours of being exposed to anthrax, the victim might develop a slight fever, muscle pains, cough, chest pains and malaise. This initial phase is usually mistaken as a common virus, which makes the early diagnosis and treatment of anthrax virtually impossible. Sometimes this initial phase is followed by a brief recovery period.

The onset of worse symptoms will begin within 24 hours and includes shortness of breath, wheezing caused by increased difficulty in breathing, and internal bleeding that may flood the lungs, esophagus and the brain. At that point the victim may begin to cough up blood and to bleed from the ears, nose and the eyes. The bleeding causes the victim's skin to turn blue or black. Sweating, a swelling of the chest area, seizures and severe shock from blood loss also occur before the victim ultimately dies.

Other than a gas mask, a person's only real protection against anthrax is prior vaccination.

"We call it our biological flak jacket," said Heins. "Just like a flak jacket protects us from bullets, the vaccine protects us from anthrax."

Heins said there is no reason to fear this vaccine.

"The anthrax vaccination is no different from any of the other vaccinations we get," she said.

Hughes will be retiring from the Marine Corps in December and his plans may include returning to Idaho and the way of life in which he was raised. And just as his daddy did for him on that small cattle ranch more than 30 years ago, Hughes said he plans to protect his own family.

"I'm going to get it, my children are going to get it and my wife is going to get it," said Hughes. "I truly believe in my heart that it's a good thing." (Courtesy of Marine Corps News)

RELATED SITES

* Anthrax Site
* Food and Drug Administration
* Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
* U.S. Marine Corps