- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 9, 2002

Can Americans trust new smallpox vaccines that have never been tested on humans, or can terrorists use crop dusters to kill thousands of people?

Those are some of the questions people can now answer at the new Bioterrorism Learning Center, a Web site that shows video presentations of physicians and scientists discussing the threats of bioterrorism facing the United States since the anthrax crisis in October.

"This is really about getting information to the mother of three kids who hears something on the news and starts worrying about the kids, or the guy who sits in the office and wants to get more information on bioterrorism," said Brian Whitfield, chairman and chief executive officer of DigiScript Inc., a Nashville, Tenn.-based company that designed the site.

"This is one good place where they can go to answer the questions they have by medical experts," Mr. Whitfield said.

The center, reachable through https://bioterrorism.digiscript.com, was primarily set up to teach people how to tell the difference between the myths and realities of bioterrorism.

For example, the site features Amy E. Smithson, a director of the Chemical and Biological Weapons Nonproliferation Project, talking about the difficulties of using crop dusters to disseminate a biological-warfare agent.

In another video segment, Lawrence J. Halloran, staff director and counsel to the subcommittee on national security, veterans affairs and international relations of the House Committee on Government Reform, talks about the dangers involved in using a new vaccine that has never been tested on humans.

The current presentations are: understanding and addressing bioterrorism proliferation; responding to bioterrorism; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention clinical laboratory's response to bioterrorism; and responding to bioterrorism.

The center is also another resource physicians can use as a reference. So far, only the American Society of Clinical Pathologists (ASCP) and the College of American Pathologists (CAP) have provided content for the site. Other medical associations, including the American College of Preventive Medicine, will soon include their speakers on the site.

Mr. Whitfield concedes the Bioterrorism Learning Center is one of many sites that have popped up since the terrorist attacks. But he said his site is different because the information is unedited and comes directly from physicians and scientists who have studied biological and chemical warfare.

"There's a lot of content out there that is a mile wide and an inch deep," Mr. Whitfield said. "Our content already has a respect factor, because it comes from respected medical associations."

The presentations are shown in their entirety, so that visitors to the center can decide how much of the information is important to them. The center also includes an index of hyperlinks and a keyword search that lets visitors navigate to specific points of interest. The service is free.

CDC officials said they support any center or Web sites that teaches people facts, not fiction. The CDC has also been updating medical information about bioterrorism since the anthrax incidents.

"We are very supportive of people having access to any information that would help them be prepared for any potential attack and to quickly come up to speed with bioterrorism," said CDC spokeswoman Kathy Harben.

Physicians said they like the site because it allows them to keep up with the latest medical information about bioterrorism.

"It's very important to have this kind of technology available for people and anyone in the medical profession to watch and learn about what's out there right now," said Dr. Jared Schwartz, a pathologist in Charlotte, N.C. "There is a tremendous amount of information that needs to be put out to the public, especially now."


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