October 19, 2001 11:00 pm

Dont get carried away with the anthrax scare. The flu will kill a lot more Americans this year than anthrax will.

Americans have become gripped by the fear of anthrax being sent through the mail. Although hundreds of people have been tested, only a handful of cases have been confirmed. After the Sept. 11 attack on America, its understandable that Americans would be on edge. But we must not let fear get the best of our common sense.

Locally, the Center for Human Development is receiving several calls a day from people concerned about anthrax and even smallpox. CHD is trying to allay fears, as are most medical professionals these days.

Oregons two top public health officials are cautioning citizens not to let the fear of anthrax get the best of them. Taking antibiotics in order to prevent anthrax harm could do very little good because it could lead to antibiotic-resistant bacteria, Dr. Grant Higgonson, state public health officer, and Dr. Mel Kohn, state epidemiologist, said.

Last year in the United States about 20,000 people died from influenza. And yet we dont see the same kind of incredible public anxiety around us, Kohn said.

To get life-threatening pulmonary anthrax would require a person to inhale about 10,000 spores, which would mean the spores must be aerosolized, Kohn said. Apparently the technology that has been applied so far is not very effective.

Relax. Anthrax isnt the threat some people might think it is. But do get a flu shot if you can.

In name(tags) only

The La Grande School District will soon be requiring employees to wear nametags. The school board this week approved making identification badges mandatory for all employees. The concept is a good one in terms of public relations, but the fact that the badges dont include photos and bar codes make the effort more ceremonial than meaningful when it comes to security.

Many large corporations have made ID badges mandatory. But in most places where the badges are in use, photos and bar codes are part of the badge. They not only provide identification, but they have the necessary coding to allow entrance to buildings and specific departments.

Superintendent Dan Arriola, who implemented the nametags on a voluntary basis when the school year began, said the badges make it easy to identify anyone who is not authorized to be in a school building. But the fact is, duplicating a name and a logo and even a photo isnt hard to do these days. If someone wanted to fake a nametag, they could do it with a computer and a scanner.

The district has taken a step toward heightening awareness of the need for greater security at school. But the nametags it will be using shouldnt be confused with security ID badges. A full-fledged security badge system would be costly, and at this point the district is in greater need of textbooks than it is heightened security.