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National Information Center on Health Services Research and Health Care Technology (NICHSR)

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Introduction to Health Services Research : A Self-Study Course

Case 4: Bioterrorism -- Community Preparedness (Page 2 of 49)

Case Background

In the past few years, there has been a growing concern about the threat of bioterrorism in the United States. After the release of sarin (a nerve gas) on a subway in Japan in 1995, U.S. funding for counter-terrorism measures increased dramatically.

Another bioterrorism episode involved the use of anthrax. In September 2001 "letters containing anthrax spores were mailed to several news media offices and two U.S. Senators, killing five people and infecting 17 others." Two different types of anthrax were sent. No one has been apprehended for sending the anthrax (Wikipedia, 2007).

These attacks have lead to an increase in bioterrorism funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) which had no funding for bioterrorism preparedness programs in 1998, but was given almost $194 million for fiscal year 2001 (Strongin, 2001 appendix 2, p.3).

As the potential for large scale biological and chemical attacks increases, more money has been spent on research and emergency planning. According to an October 2001 report produced by the National Health Policy Forum, "Within [the Department of Health and Human Services], five agencies or offices work on bioterrorism issues" (Strongin, 2001 appendix 2, p. 1).

The CDC, one of these five agencies, began offering documents on its Web site that address bioterrorism issues, for example, "Bioterrorism Readiness Plan: A Template for Healthcare Facilities" (April 13, 1999) and "The Public Health Response to Biological and Chemical Terrorism: Interim Planning Guidance for State Public Health Officials" (July 2001) (CDC, 2001).

Several national emergency response programs are now in various stages of development, such as the Laboratory Response Network, Health Alert Network, National Pharmaceutical Stockpile, and National Disaster Medical System Strongin, 2001, p.3).

Government organizations were not the only ones preparing against bioterrorism. States and local communities began utilizing grants from the CDC to develop response plans in the event of a bioterrorism threat.

One such example is Middlesex County, New Jersey. Their online document, "Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Presentation," details a plan of action and evaluation methods for the public health department (VanClef, 2000). Documents like this are important for community planners who will be looking for programs similar to what they want to design. These documents are generally revised often to meet changing needs and conditions.

Events in the fall of 2001 have called attention to the need for coordinated emergency planning and the possible stockpiling of antibiotics and vaccines in case of a widespread bioterrorist attack.

All levels of communities (national, state, county, city, neighborhood)
are affected by these concerns and have questions about what they can do to prepare for the worst. Your task will be to answer questions raised by those in the community as they prepare for future bioterrorism attack.

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