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Troops' Plasma Needed to Develop New Anthrax Defense

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 11, 2004 – A new program starting today to develop a new defense against anthrax will depend on servicemembers' donated plasma to be most effective.

The greatest number of the 1.2 million people vaccinated against anthrax a deadly disease that can be used in biological warfare is in the military. Their blood plasma the straw-colored fluid part of the blood can be used to make a new medication called anthrax immune globulin, said Army Col. John D. Grabenstein, the deputy director of the Military Vaccine Agency, in a telephone interview.

Unlike a vaccine that prevents disease, the anthrax immune globulin will be used to treat "people who develop a severe anthrax infection," Grabenstein noted. They would receive the globulin along with antibiotics "to give anthrax- infected patients their best chance for survival."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is in charge of the program. The CDC, part of the U.S. Health and Human Services Department, is the lead federal agency in protecting people's health and safety. DoD responded to HHS' call for assistance by agreeing to distribute information to servicemembers.

"The plasma part of the blood has a lot of antibodies in it," Grabenstein said. "Antibodies are proteins that people use to defend themselves from infection." From that plasma, CDC can derive the medication to treat severe cases of anthrax.

The CDC wants to make enough anthrax immune globulin to protect between 5,000 and 10,000 people. They could be anybody in the country, civilian or military, Grabenstein said. The globulin will go into the CDC's strategic national stockpile, a collection of emergency supplies for mass-casualty events.

He said CDC "will need a good number of volunteers" to reach this goal.

And he does mean volunteers. No one will order anyone to participate. "It's entirely up to the troops, but they need to know what's in their blood might help other people," he emphasized. "Troops who receive anthrax vaccine have very valuable antibodies in their blood stream that could help others, as well as themselves. By donating plasma, these troops would be sharing the protection they carry around inside them, so that an anthrax-infected patient would have a better chance at surviving the infection."

The program begins today at Fort Campbell, Ky. DoD plans to add other sites in the future, based on the need and the number of available volunteers.

Servicemembers who received anthrax vaccination No. 4 or higher are eligible to participate. There are six shots in the anthrax series. There's a narrow window when they can begin to donate between 10 and 21 days after that vaccination. "That's when their antibody levels are the highest and the CDC would get the most yield from the plasma," Grabenstein said.

A civilian collection center in Clarksville, Tennessee, will gather the plasma and turn it over to the CDC.

Grabenstein said the process is just like giving blood, "except you get the cells back."

During the process the blood flows from the donor through a needle to a collection chamber. In that chamber, a spinning centrifuge separates plasma from blood cells. The plasma is kept, and the blood cells go back into the donor's bloodstream. The process takes about an hour and a half.

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Related Sites:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Military Vaccine Agency
Anthrax Vaccine Immunization Program

Related Articles:
DoD Assists CDC With Anthrax Plasma Project

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