Governor announces state bioterrorism measures

From staff reports

   State and local agencies have taken numerous steps to strengthen the state's capacity to respond rapidly to biological or chemical attacks, according to Gov. Don Sundquist.
   "We are working diligently to ensure that we are prepared to deal with a bioterrorist event should one occur," Sundquist said, in an attempt to allay fears amid heightened public concern over bioterrorism and the use of anthrax.
   The Tennessee Department of Health has been focusing on bioterrorism preparedness for several years and has worked with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Tennessee Emergency Management Agency, law enforcement officials, emergency personnel and others on a continuing basis to develop a response plan in the event of a public health emergency.
   "Our goal is to be able to detect an epidemic quickly, to uncover and eliminate the cause in order to halt the spread of disease and to provide rapid treatment to exposed individuals," said state Health Commissioner Fredia Wadley, M.D.
   "We are working on strengthening our public health infrastructure in order to improve our ability to identify and control communicable disease threats," she said.
   A surveillance system for infectious diseases, including those that could be caused by biological or chemical agents already is in place in Tennessee and hospitals and physicians are required to notify the state if any of those diseases are found. However, following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, the Department of Health contacted hospital emergency rooms, local health departments and other health care providers to be on alert for unusual illnesses or clusters of disease.
   Other steps the state has taken to increase response capacity to biological or chemical attack have been made possible by additional federal funding. These include:
   * Enhancing overall laboratory capacity to detect and diagnose biological agents that could be used in a bioterrorism event, including purchase of state-of-the-art equipment and comprehensive training in laboratory methods;
   * Hiring a bioterrorism coordinator to implement the preparedness and planning process;
   * Developing an emergency notification system for quickly disseminating fax health alerts to hospitals;
   * Use of high-speed Internet connections to enable state, local and federal health officials to communicate quickly and securely;
   * Participating in numerous conferences, seminars and training exercises on bioterrorism topics and enhancing distance learning capabilities via satellite facilities to provide training for public health workers, physicians, hospital personnel and others;
   * Developing stockpiles of lifesaving pharmaceuticals and antibiotics in Memphis and Nashville, and later Chattanooga and Knoxville, to be supplemented by the CDC's National Pharmaceutical Stockpile Program;
   * Provide training for hospital laboratories to rule out bacterial agents.
   "We must all continue to work together to keep Tennesseans safe from possible threats," Sundquist said.
   "Federal, state and local officials as well as citizens share the responsibility of being aware and vigilant. We will continue to do all we can to ensure security."
   To further address these issues, the Department of Health will sponsor a bioterrorism conference for legislators, health care professionals, emergency workers, and others from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. (Central Daylight Time) Oct. 30 at the War Memorial Auditorium in Nashville.