Bioterrorism and Public Health
Bioterrorism poses a unique challenge to the medical care and public health systems. Unlike an explosion or chemical attack, which results in immediate and visible casualties, the public health impact of a biological attack can unfold gradually over time. Until a sufficient number of people arrive at the emergency rooms and doctors' offices complaining of similar illnesses, there may be no sign that an attack has taken place. The speed and accuracy with which the doctors and laboratories reach the correct diagnoses and report their findings to public health authorities has a direct impact on the number of people who become ill, and the number that die. The nation's ability to respond to a bioterrorist attack, therefore, depends crucially on the state of preparedness of its medical care systems and public health infrastructure. Public health experts have for years complained about the deterioration of the public health system through neglect and lack of funding. They warn that the nation is ill equipped and insufficiently prepared to respond to a bioterrorist attack. For example, they point out that there are too few medical personnel trained to spot biological attacks, a shortage of sophisticated laboratories to identify the agents, and inadequate supplies of drugs and vaccines to counteract the threat. They also contend that inadequate plans exist for setting up quarantines and emergency facilities to handle the sick and infectious victims. Improving public health preparedness and response capacity offers protection not only from bioterrorist attacks, but also from naturally occurring public health emergencies. Public health officials are increasingly concerned about our exposure and susceptibility to infectious disease and food-borne illness because of global travel, ubiquitous food imports, and the evolution of antibiotic-resistant pathogens. This book reviews critical issues in the US public system and its vulnerability or lack thereof to bioterrorism.
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