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Am J Public Health. 2005 Mar;95(3):489-95.

In their own words: lessons learned from those exposed to anthrax.

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George Washington University Department of Emergency Medicine, 2150 Pennsylvania Ave, NW, Washington, DC, 20037, USA.



We evaluated perceptions of workers at the US Postal Service Brentwood Processing and Distribution Center and US Senate employees regarding public health responses to the anthrax mailings of October 2001. We generated recommendations for improving responses to bioterrorism on the basis of the perceptions we recorded.


Transcripts from focus groups conducted with Brentwood and US Senate employees were examined, and qualitative analysis identified common domains.


Brentwood focus groups consisted of 36 participants (97% African American and 19% hearing impaired). US Senate focus groups consisted of 7 participants (71% White and 0% hearing impaired). The focus groups revealed that participants' trust in public health agencies had eroded and that this erosion could threaten the effectiveness of communication during future public health emergencies. Among Brentwood participants, lack of trust involved the perception that unfair treatment on the basis of race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status had occurred; among US Senate participants, it derived from perceptions of inconsistent and disorganized messages.


Effective communication during a public health emergency depends on the provision of clear messages and close involvement of the affected community. Diverse populations may require individualized approaches to ensure that messages are delivered appropriately. Special attention should be given to those who face barriers to traditional modes of communication.

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