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Local agencies prepare for bioterrorism

Bioterrorism – it’s now a word known throughout most American homes, as reports of anthrax-contaminated letters spread from Florida to Capitol Hill.

Tuesday, October 16, 2001

Bioterrorism – it’s now a word known throughout most American homes, as reports of anthrax-contaminated letters spread from Florida to Capitol Hill.

The latest, an envelope in Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle’s office containing a powdery substance, tested positive for the disease and prompted a criminal investigation Monday.

That disclosure came after days of unsettling reports of anthrax scares in three states, including the death of one man last week.

Even though President Bush has calmly asked people "to be cautious," fear could drive episodes of panic as people respond to everything from spilled salt on airplanes to suspicious packages.

Here at home, reactions vary:

Local ambulance personnel are considering a team of expert responders until bioterrorism training can be boosted; the sheriff’s department continues work on response plans, after state and federal agencies issued warnings to contact local law enforcement for suspicious packages; and the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Ga., has issued public guidelines and information about anthrax and what to do if you think a powdery substance is anthrax; the Ohio Department of Health has established a hotline for those wanting information, 1-866-936-4636.

The Southeast Ohio Emergency Medical Service has already seen memos about special training in the wake of recent scares, executive director Eric Kuhn said.

"The Jackson County EMA is putting together bioterrorism training," Kuhn said.

SEOEMS even is considering putting together a team of paramedics throughout the district to respond if needed, until everybody is trained to an adequate level, he said.

There’s no immediate ill effects from anthrax exposure, like there is from nerve gas, but who knows what else is out there, Kuhn added.

"I think in the next several months EMS providers, law enforcement and others will have to be trained in chemical and biological terror response," he said. "This has changed the world.

Anthrax is a clinical illness caused by Bacillus anthracis (also called B. anthracis); three main types of anthrax are cutaneous (acquired through direct skin contact with source); gastrointestinal (acquired by ingestion); and inhalation (acquired through the airways from environmental sources). Anthrax is NOT contagious, meaning it CANNOT be transmitted from one person to another.

For more information, check the CDC’s Web site at (http://www.cdc.gov).