November 2001 MedBytes: Bioterrorism

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In March 2000, MedBytes featured a list of six useful Internet sites about bioterrorism. It accompanied a Texas Medicine  cover article on the topic, which was part of TMA's efforts to inform Texas physicians on what then appeared to be an esoteric topic. The events of Sept. 11, 2001, obviously changed that perspective. The threat of an anthrax or smallpox epidemic propagated from a commandeered crop duster, for example, is now all too real and scary. This issue of MedBytes offers some links to additional resources that can help physicians prepare for, recognize, and treat such an attack.

Texas Department of State Health Services
Start with the Texas Department of State Health Services (TDSHS) Bioterrorism Information Section at www.dshs.state.tx.us/preparedness/bt_pros.shtm. It includes useful tools for the clinician, such as fact sheets on diseases from alphavirus to tularemia, disease-specific infection-control procedures, and contact numbers for state and local health officials. (Report any suspected outbreaks or unusual expressions of illness to [800] 705-8868.) A different section of the TDSHS Web site, at www.dshs.state.tx.us/preparedness/bt_pros.shtm, includes instructions on collecting, handling, and submitting diagnostic specimens.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Included in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Public Health Emergency Preparedness & Response site at www.bt.cdc.gov is the agency's April 2000 "Strategic Plan for Preparedness and Response" for biological and chemical weapon attacks. It also offers a model emergency response communications plan as well as extensive information on biological and chemical agents, planning and training issues, and laboratory safety guidelines.

World Health Organization
The World Health Organization has updated its 30-year-old technical guide, "Health Aspects of Biological and Chemical Weapons." It answers frequently asked questions on the topic and provides information on its Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network at www.who.int/csr/delibepidemics/biochem1stenglish/en/index.html. The 179-page technical guide, which covers medical, legal, and public health readiness aspects of biological and chemical weapons, is actually still a working draft. The final version of the guide is due out in December 2001.

BioPort Corporation
The Internet communication efforts at BioPort Corporation (www.bioport.com) still appear aimed at countering negative press the country's sole manufacturer of anthrax vaccine received from vaccination of troops. At press time, there was no mention of the Pentagon report that vaccine stockpiles were dangerously low for military purposes and nonexistent for civilian populations.

General Accounting Office
Although the first shipments from the U.S. National Pharmaceutical Stockpile were sent to New York City the day after the terrorist attack, the General Accounting Office report at www.gao.gov/new.items/d01323.pdf outlines the government's shortcomings in maintaining the "federal medical stockpiles that can be used to treat civilian and military victims in the event of a chemical or biological terrorist attack."

Texas Medical Association
For quick access to these resources, plus any breaking alerts from state or federal health authorities, visit the TMA Knowledge Center hot topic bibliograhy on  bioterrorism.

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 cool medical sites or have questions about how to use the TMA Web site. 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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