September 2002 MedBytes: Bioterrorism

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When Texas Medicine first wrote about the possibility of a bioterrorism attack two years ago, a search of the Internet turned up only a handful of bioterror-related Web sites. But after last Sept. 11 and the anthrax attacks in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Florida that followed a month later, the World Wide Web is teeming with bioterrorism sites. That's either good news or bad news, depending on how you look at it. Anyway, here are some of the sites worth bookmarking.

Texas Department of Health
The state health department's site at  http://www.dshs.state.tx.us/preparedness/bt_pros.shtm provides an extensive list of resources physicians can use in diagnosing illnesses related to a bioterror attack. As the introduction on the site's first page says, "Knowledge is the tool to fight terrorism." The site includes the Emergency Department Surveillance Report Form in an HTML format and Investigation and Differential Diagnosis Tool in a PDF format. Also available are laboratory protocols for selected bioterrorism agents such as anthrax, brucellosis, plague, and tularemia; laboratory formulas for asundry strains; flow charts for identifying Bacillus anthracis ; and various laboratory publications.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
CDC's site, located at www.bt.cdc.gov , provides information about chemical and biological agents, news releases, training, contacts, and other important information dealing with the public health aspects of bioterrorism preparedness and response. The site includes emergency contact information for each state and a listing of different biological agents. It also has the recommendations on smallpox vaccinations from the Association of Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology, and a guide for getting CDC grants for research. You'll also find a list of frequently asked questions about bioterrorism, links to other Web resources, and regional and state health department contacts.

Center for Civilian Biodefense Studies
This site, located at www.hopkins-biodefense.org , was established as a communication tool in hopes of averting bioterrorism and its devastating effects. The site provides up-to-date information on the biological agents of greatest concern and explores ways to prevent and respond to their use. It includes actual cases of bioterrorism to study for lessons in prevention, detection, and management. New additions are discussions of anthrax and hemorrhagic viruses as biological weapons, and the state of public health preparedness for possible use of weapons of mass destruction.

Center for the Study of Bioterrorism
Created by the Saint Louis University School of Public Health, the Center for the Study of Bioterrorism site at www.bioterrorism.slu.edu has fact sheets on anthrax, botulism, brucellosis, cholera, plague, smallpox, tularemia, and viral hemorrhagic fevers; clinical fact sheets and PowerPoint presentations on primary bioterrorism agents; and links to governmental and professional organization resources.

New Scientist
For a hair-raising experience, log on to http://www.newscientist.com/. You'll read about how Australian researchers have accidentally created a virus that kills its victims by wiping out part of their immune system. It doesn't affect humans -- yet -- but it is closely related to smallpox and has raised fears that terrorists could take legitimate research and use it for biowarfare. There's more good news on this site. The International Atomic Energy Agency says there are "millions" of radiation sources in the world that terrorists could turn into "dirty" bombs, and more than 100 countries aren't doing a very good job of keeping them out of the hands of potential terrorists.

On the TMA Web site
To quickly find books, articles, and Web site links to reliable resources on bioterrorism, click on the Texas Medical Association Library's hot topics bibliography .  To request items on the hot topics list, members can contact the TMA Library by submitting an online photocopy request form; calling (800) 880-1300, ext. 1550, or (512) 370-1550; faxing (512) 370-1634; or emailing  TMA Knowledge Center.

MedBytes is a quick look at new, or newly discovered, Web sites of interest to Texas physicians. The column also highlights features of the TMA Web site at www.texmed.org. If you know of some interesting medical sites or have questions about how to use the TMA Web site, email Erin Prather. Publication of information about Web sites in this column is not to be considered an endorsement or approval by the Texas Medical Association of the sites or sponsors, or of any products or services involved.

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