- The Washington Times - Monday, November 18, 2002

RICHMOND A statewide communication system to exchange critical information in the event of a bioterrorism attack is up and running, and officials are moving quickly on other fronts to combat the threat, a state Health Department report says.
The department submitted a "public health preparedness and response" report on Nov. 1 to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The state must meet requirements of the CDC to receive federal bioterrorism funds.
The Associated Press obtained a copy of the report under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.
Parts of the report were excised by the department because they detailed specific emergency procedures. Revealing the information "would jeopardize the safety of governmental facilities, buildings, structures or information storage," said department spokeswoman Trina H. Lee.
However, the report provides glimpses into the state's anti-terrorism efforts since the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon and the subsequent anthrax-by-mail attacks that killed five.
The Health Department report said 100 percent of Virginia's population is covered by a Health Alert Network that provides a flow of critical health information among hospital emergency rooms, state and local health officials, and law enforcement officials.
In addition, the department said it has created redundant methods of sending and receiving critical alerts that provide other private health care providers with timely notification and information.
The department said it gained useful experience in this area by disseminating information about West Nile virus and malaria during the summer.
The report said the department has hired 20 epidemiologists, specialists who identify and control communicable diseases.
It said it will have an epidemiologist in all 35 health districts by March.
Eleven of 35 bioterrorism coordinators also have been hired.
The anthrax attacks and hoaxes, some in Virginia and the District taught health officials that Virginia needed to add a lot more epidemiologists as soon as possible because the department had to divert a lot of resources during the scare.
Officials said it became obvious the state did not have the human or physical resources to respond to an outbreak of anthrax, smallpox or other diseases.
The report said the Health Department has established a system to rapidly detect a bioterrorism attack through a mandatory disease surveillance system.
Complete response plans have been drafted for widespread influenza and smallpox outbreaks.
Specific guidelines have been completed for anthrax, plague and viral hemorrhagic fevers, including physician fact sheets, diagnosis guidance and treatment and infection control.
The report said the department is capable of distributing antibiotics, vaccines and poison gas antidotes throughout the state.
Tommy G. Thompson, secretary of health and human services, approved most of Virginia's bioterrorism plan in June and released $18.5 million to the state to strengthen further its public health and emergency response systems.
Another $465,000 will be released after Mr. Thompson signs off on the Nov. 1 plan, which answered additional questions by the federal government.
Virginia so far has received $23.7 million in federal bioterrorism-preparedness grants.


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