Cipro, Cipro, Cipro. That's been the mantra of the media as dozens of people exposed to anthrax -- and thousands who weren't -- clamor for the potent antibiotic. But if the supply dwindles, doctors say other cheaper and widely available medications can be used, including a previous generation's wonder drug: penicillin. Although alternatives exist, Cipro is the latest and greatest, so it tends to get attention.
It helped that Cipro was the only drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat inhaled anthrax. But Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson today encouraged the use of two other antibiotics, penicillin and doxycycline. Before this month, Cipro -- the brand name for the drug ciprofloxacin -- was little known outside of doctor's offices and pharmacies, where it is dispensed to treat a variety of diseases, including urinary tract infections.
Like other antibiotics, Cipro kills harmful bacteria in the body. The main difference is that it's designed to attack a variety of types of germs. It is effective against a wide range of organisms. Doctors sometimes use Cipro when they are waiting to find out exactly what type of bacteria they're dealing with. It's especially effective against anthrax because it may take days for scientists to discover what kind of strain is involved in an attack.
According to experts, all known strains are vulnerable to Cipro, although the drug must be given before symptoms develop or shortly thereafter to be most effective. Before Cipro came along, penicillin was a common treatment for anthrax. Pharmaceutical companies say they're ready to ramp up production of anti-anthrax drugs if needed.