How would Madera County respond to an incident of bioterrorism?
That's the question public health officials both here and around the Valley mulled over during a meeting in Sacramento on Tuesday.
Some of the questions they asked: How will Anthrax or Smallpox vaccines from national stockpiles be transported into quarantined counties or regions? How best to identify and isolate individuals exposed to biological and chemical agents of terrorism? What's the best way to inform the public about a bioterrorism attack?
"A bioterrorism attack is a huge concept," said Carol Barney, Madera's public health director.
Should a bioterrorism incident happen here, it'll probably affect surrounding counties, which will require regional cooperation and response, she said.
"If Madera were quarantined, for example, we'd probably have to fly in vaccines or have them trucked to the border," she said. "Fresno, Tulare, Kings and Madera – any one of the surrounding counties could be affected, so it's a regional issue."
To that purpose, the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has budgeted $7.5 million through fiscal year 2002 - 2003 for California counties to each devise a prevention and response plan.
Nearly $67,000 of a $300,000 grant to Madera County from the CDC was approved by the county Board of Supervisors last week to prepare by Oct. 15 an assessment of the county's ability to respond to bioterrorism, Barney said.
For example, Madera County's existing strengths are laboratory testing facilities and experienced personnel, Barney said.
Our weaknesses are in the areas of communications and surveillance.
"We've got a small county, so that's a strength because we talk to each other here, unlike larger counties," she said. "Still, we'll have to develop ways to cooperate more closely. It'll take a lot of coordination between everyone in the county."
Those strengths and weaknesses will be better understood after Oct. 15, she said.
Inspection is one area in need of improvement already, Barney said.
The Department of Public Health here employs one communicable health inspector but will hire another for at least a year, but only over the course the bioterrorism plan's funding.
The inspectors' job is critical to the plan because they will be in close contact with area healthcare professionals before an attack is known, looking out for symptoms of various biological or chemical agents.
The complete project includes six critical foci: a health alert system, laboratory capacity to test for biological or chemical agents, risk and health dissemination, and education and training, along with the initial readiness assessment.
For more information about biological or chemical agents, including their various affects , see the CDC's website at http://www.bt.cdc.gov.