Meeting the Challenge of Bioterrorism: Lessons Learned from West Nile Virus and Anthrax

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Hospital emergency departments (EDs) and ambulatory clinics may be the first to recognize illness related to a bioterrorist event. Every health-care institution must develop a weapons-of-mass- destruction (WMD) preparedness plan as part of its all-hazards disaster planning. As part of an all-hazards disaster plan, WMD preparedness should use the incident-command model to insure the required chain of command for effectively coordinating activities between hospital departments and external agencies. Preparedness for bioterrorism poses unique challenges. In the event of a biological attack, the hospital infection control staff and administration must already have in place the means to communicate with local and state public health agencies, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), local law-enforcement agencies, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Local and regional planners must consider how to coordinate the responses of emergency medical services (EMS), police, and fire departments with healthcare providers and the news media. Most hospitals are ill equipped to deal with a catastrophic event caused by WMD. The burden of responding to such events will fall initially on ED physicians and staff members. The severity of such an incident might be mitigated with careful planning, training and education. The responses of one hospital network to the outbreak of West Nile virus and, more recently, to the threat of anthrax, are presented as guides for bioterrorism preparedness. (Am J Emerg Med 2003;21:77-79. Copyright 2003, Elsevier Science (USA). All rights reserved.)

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