The nation”s anthrax scare hit close to home for LSA senior Sandra Bruening, leading her to look for more information on treatment and prevention.

Paul Wong
University Vice President for Medical Affairs Gil Omenn speaks yesterday during a panel discussion about bioterrorism at the School of Public Health.<br><br>ALEX HOWBERT/Daily

“My boyfriend lives in New York, and I arrived in Rockefeller Center the day anthrax did,” Bruening said. “(I) just hoped that it wasn”t in the ventilation system. I don”t really know what the plan is in response to these issues. I know there are ideas that are circulating, but I want to know more about specific initiatives and prevention.”

Bruening found answers to some of her questions yesterday during a presentation on bioterrorism at the School of Public Health.

“We don”t have widespread disease, we have widespread fear and anxiety,” said Matthew Boulton, a state epidemiologist at the Michigan Department of Community Health. “It”s made it more challenging to develop a response.

“Timeliness is critical,” said Boulton, who discussed the so-called burst response system created in the state that sends a message to 1,000 state officials via phone, e-mail and fax immediately following the report of an attack.

Boulton said a large problem with response to biological elements was that many physicians haven”t seen the diseases, including small pox and anthrax, and have said they would have trouble diagnosing them.

Suzanne White, Medical Director at Children”s Hospital of Michigan Regional Poison Control Center, also noted the lack of experienced professionals. “There”s been a huge amount of relearning. Before, we thought you couldn”t get inhalation anthrax simply through a letter,” White said.

With 20 cases of anthrax diagnosed and 19 postal service facilities decontaminated, medical professionals know their beliefs may not be true and are attempting to learn more about diagnosis and prevention.

“A weekend ago, I was on call for the state and took 46 phone calls from physicians to rule out possible anthrax cases,” said Boulton, who said the state has received 1,000 reported claims of anthrax this fall.

“Bioterrorism is evil, and fighting bioterrorism is good,” Richard Lempert, director of the Life Sciences, Values and Society Program, said in his opening statements. “We should invest substantially in the fight, but there is a clash of political values. It is the desire of tax payers to have more money in their pockets. (People) seem far more willing to invest in machines than on people.”

To counter these terrorist actions, University, state and national figures are joining forces to create a technically and demographically diverse group of skilled professionals, ready to handle an attack.

“Toward the end of the 20th century, we developed a local emergency response team,” said Hank Baier, the University”s associate vice president of facilities and operations. “There are people in this world who want to kill us. As the world becomes smaller, all we know changes when civilians are targets, and (the enemies) are suicidal.

“We have a lot of assets readily available for response. Getting them to communicate effectively is the challenge,” Baier said.

During these investigations, a number of diverse experts are called to the scene, including medical professionals, hazardous materials teams and police forces.

“When it comes to bioterrorism, it will include the FBI, the National Guard, reporters and politicians,” Lempert said. “Disease scenes become crime scenes.”

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