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The Daily Tar Heel

Fear of Anthrax Leads Many to Seek Antibiotics Over Internet

Internet medical sites such as, based in Morrisville, N.C., have seen a rise in the sales of Ciprofloxacin, commonly known as Cipro, an antibiotic used to combat inhaled anthrax. But health officials are warning against these sites because of the relatively easy methods they use to fill prescriptions.

To obtain a prescription from, the patient must fill out a basic information form and then provide payment information.

Patients then fill out an online questionnaire pertaining to their medical history and are directed to a virtual pharmacy that fills the emergency prescription.

Tania Malik, CEO of, said the company has received more than 100 requests a day since anthrax scares began occurring last month. Although Malik said they have an adequate supply, the company has decided to limit the amount prescribed to patients to a seven-day supply as an initial treatment.

She said the site only uses board certified physicians in diagnosing patients, but the only legal requirement is that the Web site provide a secure server that allows the patients to interact with physicians.

Bill Furney, spokesman for the N.C. Department of Health, said there could be major problems stemming from online prescriptions.

He said it is important to be physically examined by a doctor, who can then properly determine the necessary treatments. "What is of bigger concern is the abuse of antibiotics," Furney said.

Furney also said taking an antibiotic now without actually having an illness might compromise immunity to the bacteria the patient is trying to prevent.

Dr. Myron Cohen, chief of UNC's Infectious Diseases Division, said the anthrax virus is treatable with many drugs and people should not think that Cipro is a magic cure. Cohen said antibiotics like Cipro cannot be taken for short periods of time and be expected to work. Many have to be taken for up to two months.

He pointed out that the average physician might not be able to make a diagnosis of anthrax with a physical examination, let alone a simple diagnosis over the Internet.

Cohen said there are side effects of taking an antibiotic with or without actual infection, which include potential gastric upset, dizziness, along with a weakened immunity to other infections.

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