State Health Department Prepared For Bio-Terrorism

Mississippi is better prepared than many other states to handle possible bioterrorism attacks according to state health officer Ed Thompson.

He told the State Board of Health on Wednesday that the state had been planning for biological warfare for some time.

"We didn't start thinking about bioterrorism on Sept. 11th. Our state department of health and others we work with began this process several years ago."

Since 1999, Mississippi has received more than $1 million in funding to combat bioterrorism. That money is used for things like training staff and preparing hospitals and physicians. Health officials say Mississippi does have a bioterrorism plan in place.

"We're ready as far as looking for diseases that could be bioterrorism agents we've got surrveilance in place for that," state epidemiologist Dr. Mary Currier said.  "We've got a way to enhance surveillance if there's a threat of an event. And we've got a plan in place to distribute vaccine and or antibiotics if it's needed if there's an event."

The state department of health now has the capabilities in its own laboratory to identify anthrax organisms. In the past, they used to have to send them to Atlanta.

"We can now do them in our lab. If it's a clinical specimen, we can turn it around in about four hours," Thompson said.

And since there's no vaccine available for many of the bacteria bioterrorists could use, every second counts in a diagnosis.

By Iris Keogh