Following chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear disasters, medically unexplained symptoms have been observed among unexposed persons.Objectives This study examined belief in exposure in relation to postdisaster symptoms in a volunteer sample of 137 congressional workers after the 2001 anthrax attacks on Capitol Hill.Methods Postdisaster symptoms, belief in exposure, and actual exposure status were obtained through structured diagnostic interviews and self-reported presence in offices officially designated as exposed through environmental sampling. Multivariate models were tested for associations of number of postdisaster symptoms with exposure and belief in exposure, controlling for sex and use of antibiotics.Results The sample was divided into 3 main subgroups: exposed, 41%; unexposed but believed they were exposed, 17%; and unexposed and did not believe that they were exposed, 42%. Nearly two-thirds (64%) of the volunteers reported experiencing symptoms after the anthrax attacks. Belief in anthrax exposure was significantly associated with the number of ear/nose/throat, musculoskeletal, and all physical symptoms. No significant associations were found between anthrax exposure and the number of postdisaster symptoms.Conclusions Given the high incidence of these symptoms, these data suggest that even in the absence of physical injury or illness, there may be surges in health care utilization.
- belief in exposure
- medically unexplained symptoms
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health