As the reverberations of 11 September continue to be felt, many members of the public turned to online pharmacies as anthrax scares led to soaring demand for antibiotics, such as Cipro,

According to the Washington Post spot shortages of Cipro are now appearing as people worried about anthrax begin to hoard the drug. There have also been US press reports of e-mail advertisements offering a non-existent anthrax vaccine to a frightened US public.

The US Department of Health and Human Services has advised consumers not to seek prescriptions for Cipro. "Cipro should not be prescribed unless there is a clearly indicated need, so that the drug will be available as the need arises for the standard infections for which it is used."

Nevertheless online offers of Cipro mushroom. One new site rather incongruously offers Cipro alongside treatments for diarrhoea and urinary tract infections.

The US National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) meanwhile has urged consumers to buy only from pharmacies they know and trust, and look for its Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites (VIPPS) seal. Some online pharmacies like repeat official guidance that antibiotics are not suitable for preventative use, while also selling a 60-pill course for $260.

Other online pharmacy services are offering Cipro prescriptions based on completion of a simple questionnaire, remotely reviewed a physician who then issues the prescription. This type of “sight unseen” consultation has been condemned by both the American Medical Association and the NABP.

Another US online pharmacy promoting the drug, alongside offers for Viagra, is, whose site states: “Protect Yourself Against An Anthrax or Biowarfare Attack – CIPRO will protect your body in case an attack occurs.” Goodpills is also offering a "special lowered consultation fee" on orders of Cipro, charging $445 for 60 pills.

Significantly, the leading US online pharmacist Merck Medco advises that it has carefully evaluated the recommendations of opinion leaders with regard to the private stockpiling of antibiotics in response to the recent bio-terrorism concern, and states: "Consensus recommendations of these professional organizations currently weighs against such stockpiling".

In the UK meanwhile, online pharmacy Allcures told Pharmexonline that they had not received any inquiries about Cipro, but will shortly publish online the official guidance on anthrax from Pat Troop, Deputy Chief Medical Officer.