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Could Anthrax Scare Boost E-Mail Use?


October 16, 2001

All across America, anthrax-leery corporate mailrooms are taking extra care with envelopes and packages, prompting speculation on whether the Internet might see a corresponding rise in e-mail usage.

However, even the biggest advocates of the electronic medium admit no empirical evidence exists to support that notion.

A rise in corporate e-mail usage is "an interesting conjecture," said Jason Catlett, an expert on e-mail and president of Junkbusters.com, "though I'm not sure it would be supported by the figures. Historically, new media tend not to substitute for old media, they cross-fuel it. Fax machines didn't kill courier services. The paperless office never happened. Computers and e-mail just generated more paper. Spam hasn't caused a decline in junk physical mail, nor did telemarketing. They all keep on growing."

E-mail marketer NetCreations is observing a bit of impact. "Yes, we are seeing increased activity with new business acquisition via our opt-in lists although I would expect this to have more of an impact with increased mailings to e-mail housefiles," said Michael Mayor, president and COO.

E-mail messages globally already number in the billions every day; one study has predicted there will be 35 billion daily e-mails sent by the year 2005. In contrast, the U.S. Postal Service delivers approximately 208 billion pieces of mail per year.

Clearly the issue is of real concern. The Direct Marketing Association, representing a $528 billion industry, has issued a set of guidelines for mailers in light of the anthrax scare. Firston the list: Avoid using plain envelopes.

E-mail itself is a germ-free form of communication, although spores have been found on at least one computer keyboard in the Florida case. The current anthrax scare began Oct. 4 when it was confirmed that a Florida tabloid editor at American Media had contracted the inhaled form of the bacteria. He later died, the first such death in the United States since 1976.

Other experts are quick to remind us that the belief that anthrax can be transmitted by the printed page, especially a newspaper, is a myth.

"It's critically important to understand that the printing process today is driven by the electronic transmission of data from publishing locations to remote printing sites that are distributed geographically," said Frank J. Romano, chairman of the School of Printing at the Rochester Institute of Technology.

"I support the Centers For Disease Control statement that said, 'The public is at no risk of disease from handling printed paper," he said. "There is no risk of exposure of anthrax being transmitted by handling any tabloids or any publications published by American Media.'"

The CDC Web site has a wealth of information about anthrax, which basically can be contracted only by inhalation or ingestion, not just by touching a piece of paper. Still, envelopes containing powders that can be inhaled are of concern.

Meanwhile, the anthrax story just keeps getting more and more bizarre. At mid-day, Reuters was reporting that the wife of an editor at the Florida publishing company hit by anthrax was found to have rented apartments to two men identified as hijackers in the World Trade Center attacks. The FBI called it a possible coincidence.

And a letter that contained anthrax was received by the office of Senate Majority Leader Thomas Daschle, President George W. Bush said at a Monday press conference. Daschle staffers are being treated for possible exposure.

Over the weekend, three new anthrax cases — a police officer and two lab technicians involved in an investigation at NBC's New York headquarters -- tested positive for the bacteria, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said Sunday.

By Beth Cox, Copyright © 2001 INT Media Group, Incorporated


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