Health expert: Rural areas not immune from bioterrorism

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 12, 2003

Rural Alabama is not immune to a biological terrorism attack, said Diana Findley, bioterrorism expert for the Marengo County Health Department.

Anthrax was sent through letters in 2001, and such agents could easily be dispensed through contamination of a regional postal distribution center, she said.

Findley spoke Thursday to the final day-long session of the 2003 class of Leadership Marengo.

Email newsletter signup

Biological agents could also be spread by people coming back to Marengo County from visiting bigger cities, she said.

Working in bioterrorism is not a stretch "because the health department is investigating infectious diseases.

There are 11 bioterrorism teams in the state. Each team includes a nurse who investigates disease patterns or trends in diseases that are reported. "We’ve not always been good at following up on reports" in the past, she said.

There was concern about the recent flu epidemic in south Alabama, Findley said. They investigated whether it was something other than the flu.

There is a prepared list of diseases to investigate, she said. "We looking for more than the usual amount of those diseases."

The health department teams throughout the state work with the county Emergency Management Agencies to help enhance planning and perform disaster drills.

They are also working with the Statistic National Stockpile. These are 12 such stockpiles throughout the United States, Findley said, and their locations are not disclosed to the public

The stockpiles include medications as well as medical equipment available to local departments from the CDC within a 12-hour interval in the case of an emergency.

She advised citizens to prepare a plan in case of an emergency, "How you would manage, where you would go, what you would do?" To prepare an emergency kit, "think about the things that you would need to survive for a few days….Would you have enough medication?"

Findley expressed support for the smallpox vaccine despite recent media reports of side effects. Vaccinations started in mid-February on a volunteer basis to healthcare providers so they would be immunized in case the smallpox was used as a terrorist weapon. Approximately 425 have been vaccinated, she said.