Anthrax Exposure, Belief in Exposure, and Postanthrax Symptoms among Survivors of a Bioterrorist Attack on Capitol Hill

Stephanie Chiao, Howard Kipen, William K. Hallman, David E. Pollio, Carol S. North

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Following chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear disasters, medically unexplained symptoms have been observed among unexposed persons.Objectives This study examined belief in exposure in relation to postdisaster symptoms in a volunteer sample of 137 congressional workers after the 2001 anthrax attacks on Capitol Hill.Methods Postdisaster symptoms, belief in exposure, and actual exposure status were obtained through structured diagnostic interviews and self-reported presence in offices officially designated as exposed through environmental sampling. Multivariate models were tested for associations of number of postdisaster symptoms with exposure and belief in exposure, controlling for sex and use of antibiotics.Results The sample was divided into 3 main subgroups: exposed, 41%; unexposed but believed they were exposed, 17%; and unexposed and did not believe that they were exposed, 42%. Nearly two-thirds (64%) of the volunteers reported experiencing symptoms after the anthrax attacks. Belief in anthrax exposure was significantly associated with the number of ear/nose/throat, musculoskeletal, and all physical symptoms. No significant associations were found between anthrax exposure and the number of postdisaster symptoms.Conclusions Given the high incidence of these symptoms, these data suggest that even in the absence of physical injury or illness, there may be surges in health care utilization.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)555-560
Number of pages6
JournalDisaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


  • anthrax
  • belief in exposure
  • bioterrorism
  • disaster
  • medically unexplained symptoms


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