From a long time ago on a blog far, far away (and now chomped by Blogger) comes this post about how responding to bioterrorism requires a public health, not security infrastructure.
Salon is running a story that claims the anti-war march of Sept. 24 might have been subjected to a botched tularemia bioterrorist attack. I have no idea whether or not this is correct. Nonetheless, it highlights something very important-an appropriate and adequately funded public health response to bioterrorism is needed, since it is often impossible to distinguish between terrorist attacks and natural outbreaks. You wouldn’t militarize the response to West Nile virus, would you?
In other words, the response to an attack (as opposed to the prevention of an attack) would be the same (italics mine):
Mike Phelps, 45, says he attended the rally in Washington that day, traveling round trip by bus from Raleigh, N.C. On Sept. 27, he came down with a fever, sore throat and headache. Within days, he was coughing up dark phlegm. When he blew his nose, it would bleed. “It was gross,” he says. “I literally vomited out cup loads of phlegm. Most of it was dark-colored. I’ve never had anything like this before.”
Phelps’ doctor said he had pneumonia and prescribed antibiotics. A few days later, Phelps read about the tularemia scare and called his doctor. His doctor told him that if it was tularemia, he would have prescribed him the same antibiotics. Phelps says he called the CDC but was transferred to an automated system. Frustrated, he hung up.
Several members of the women’s peace group, Code Pink, also from North Carolina, who attended the march, say they got sick afterward. Stephanie Eriksen, a 46-year-old network engineer for AT&T, says she developed swollen glands and cold symptoms in her throat and chest. She developed a persistent cough that still lingers. “My throat has still not recovered completely,” she says. Eriksen says her 14-year-old daughter marched in Washington and got sick. She was tested for strep throat. Eriksen said the results were negative.
Aimee Schmidt, a Code Pink member and student at North Carolina State, says that she developed flu-like symptoms and a raging headache that lasted three days after the march. She says her eyes hurt and her whole body ached. She never went to the doctor. “I made a choice, wise or not, to just deal with it,” she says.
Of course, there are countless benign explanations for these symptoms. And it could be true that nobody got sick from F. tularensis on Sept. 24.
In terms of the response, the cause doesn’t really matter.