Are anthrax home test kits really worth it?

Friday, November 2nd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

One of the scariest things about anthrax is that you can't see the spores, which spread it.

A handful of small companies have come up with home test kits that supposedly detect anthrax spores. But could the test be worse than the actual anthrax?

News on Six reporter Steve Berg says the companies have been marketing their test kits on the Internet. But before you buy, you might want to hear what one Tulsa scientist has to say. University of Tulsa microbiologist William Rosche says the issue isn't that the kits don't work, it's that they may work. "The test kits may work, but I wouldn't want them to work because you're creating such a biohazard in and of itself, I wouldn't want anyone to have that."

Rosche says the number of spores it would take to be visible to the naked eye, would also be very dangerous. "In order for the test to read a positive result, the cells have to grow so one spore would grow into maybe ten to the eighth cells and that level would be enough to kill maybe a large number of people." The company that makes the kit says it plans to market them in various ACE Hardware stores around the country, but if that's true, it's news to them, at least the ones in Tulsa. Dana Daugherty, ACE Hardware Manager: "I haven't heard anything about the test so far, nothing from corporate, nothing from Ace corporate."

But even if you did get the kit, and used it carefully, Dr. Rosche says it's not something you can simply throw in the trash when you're done. "I'm very surprised that these are able to be sold, because they're so dangerous, they're creating such a biohazard to get rid of. Only places like universities and hospitals would be able to decontaminate it and because it's so dangerous, we wouldn't want to take those materials." The Oklahoma State Health Department says it hasn't heard anything about the kits. They say the Centers for Disease Control are currently evaluating the kits, but haven't said anything about them.

There are a number of different kits on the market. But we want to show you one that caused the greatest concern for the scientist we just talked to. This one features a petri dish, a cotton swab, and a medium that's designed to grow anthrax. Basically, you rub the swab on whatever surface or object you think is infected put it in the dish and then 48 hours later, if anything shows up, you've got anthrax.

But as Dr William Rosche said, that petri dish becomes very dangerous. As tempting as it may be to get that peace of mind. He says this is not a do-it-yourself kind of project.