Bangkok Post, October 17, 2001
Officials informed of 2 suspicious letters
The Defence and Public Health ministries are stepping up security in response to global concern about bioterrorism. Senior officials from the two agencies were called to a meeting at the Public Health Ministry yesterday to discuss the situation and decide on preparations.
Fears over bioterrorism have been widespread following unsettling reports of anthrax scares in three US states, including the death of one man in Florida last week. In Australia, 16 buildings including US and British consulates were also hit by anthrax scares after receiving suspicious letters _ all later found to be hoaxes.
Public Health Minister Sudarat Keyuraphan ensured the public that Thailand was well prepared, though it was believed the chance of a biological or chemical attack was remote. "There's no need for Thai people to worry since Thailand is not involved in the US-Afghanistan conflict," she said.
Wallop Thainua, head of the Communicable Diseases Control Department, told the meeting his agency on Monday received a report that a suspicious letter with "white powdery substance" had been found by a local resident in Chon Buri. The letter was sent to Muang district police who forwarded it to the health agency concerned. The letter was being examined by the Medical Science Department.
Public Health Minister Sudarat Keyuraphan reads a brochure about anthrax during a meeting to prepare preventive measures in light of the anthrax scare in the United States.
Another senior official at the Communicable Diseases Control Department disclosed there had been another case of a suspicious letter reported from Samut Prakan, which contained a powder that smelled like baby talcum. "It is possible more hoaxes may occur under the current situation, and we don't want the public to panic," Dr Wallop said.
According to Mrs Sudarat, both the Public Health and Defence ministries had stepped up their measures for two weeks, and a special task force will be set up between the two agencies to look after the process.
The plan consists of five major processes, including intelligence work to follow up on the situation in Afghanistan and around Thailand; monitoring work to inspect suspicious objects, and referral to concerned agencies if it is thought to involve bioterrorism. Other avenues include epidemiology control, preparation of medical care units in all agencies concerned, and stocking up by state hospitals of medical supplies sufficient for four months.
The Government Pharmaceutical Organisation has been ordered to produce antibiotics for the general public in the event of an anthrax attack. Mrs Sudarat said there were several ways of contracting anthrax, including cutaneous exposure, intestinal exposure and through inhalation, which was the most dangerous.
However, such disease could not be transmitted between people and was curable by antibiotics.
Thai medical experts, she said, were familiar with the disease, and last year only one person died of anthrax because he did not reach the doctor in time.
Deputy Defence Minister Gen Yuthasak Sasiprapha, meanwhile, ensured the ministry was well-equipped with protective gear, such as masks and protective suits for germ detectors in case biological agents were found.
People who found any suspicious objects should report directly to the provincial health offices or other provincial authorities so the matter may be pursued.
Meanwhile, a US medical unit based in Hawaii has sought knowledge from Phra Mongkut Hospital on anthrax treatment and prevention. Army chief Gen Surayud Chulanont said the army-run hospital employed military-trained anthrax specialists and would be able to offer information assistance as requested.
The disease was commonly found in Thailand and the hospital had gained expertise from years of administering treatment.
Maj-Gen Chusak Sripen, head of the Chemical Department, said Gen Surayud has ordered his and the Medical Department to set up a panel to collect information on biological weapons. These may include small pox and the plague, which have been eradicated from Thailand.
Srisook Chandrangsu, permanent secretary for communications, said postmen had been alerted to look for suspicious parcels and mail since the Sept 11 terrorist attacks in the US.