NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) - Connecticut got its first taste of
bioterrorism nearly a year ago, when an elderly Oxford woman was
infected with anthrax.
Since then, millions of dollars of federal funds and untold
hours of training and planning have been spent to prepare the state
if another bioterrorist attack should occur.
A network is being created at every public health level, from
colleges and hospitals to community health clinics and visiting
nurse groups.
If an attack should come, whether it's another anonymous
anthrax-filled letter, a nuclear power plant disaster or a smallpox
outbreak, the state can use the network to treat the injured and
stop any pathogen from spreading, said Health Commissioner Dr.
Joxel Garcia.
"It will be like a safety net process to make sure we capture
any event that may happen in the state," Garcia said.
The major work is being done through the Centers for Excellence,
set up at Hartford Hospital and the Yale-New Haven Health System to
plan and manage bioterrorism needs.
The two centers are coordinating plans, setting up policies
through consultations with experts and assessing needs for other
hospitals and health care providers.
This has been a major adjustment for hospitals, which are more
used to competing than cooperating, said Christopher Cannon. He
leads the emergency preparedness work for the Yale-New Haven Health
System, which includes Yale-New Haven, Bridgeport and Greenwich
hospitals.
"Before 9-11 in Connecticut, everyone was minding their own
business but were not necessarily looking at the larger picture,"
Cannon said. "Everyone has come to realization that I need my
neighbor - I cannot do this independently."
An early test of bioterrorism preparedness came a year ago
Thursday, when 94-year-old Ottilie Lundgren of Oxford died from
inhalation anthrax at Griffin Hospital in Derby.
Lundgren, a prim, elderly widow lived alone and rarely left her
house except for trips to church and the beauty parlor, was the
only person in Connecticut to be infected with or die from the
bacteria. Investigators believe she inhaled anthrax spores from
contaminated mail, since trace amounts of anthrax were found in a
postal sorting plant that handled her mail.
In all, anthrax attacks last year killed five people and
infected an additional 18. Letters laden with anthrax spores were
mailed to media figures and congressional leaders. No one has been
arrested.
Afterward, anthrax hoaxes became daily occurrences, with
emergency crews in moon suits expending valuable resources pursuing
fake threats.
The big fear has since shifted to smallpox and nuclear power
plants.
Smallpox was eradicated through global immunization efforts
except for small samples held at government labs in the United
States and Russia.
The government now says that other countries may have smallpox
and may try to make it into a weapon.
Historically, the highly contagious virus has killed about 30
percent of the people it infected. Routine immunizations stopped in
the United States in 1972, and people who got the vaccine before
then might be susceptible because experts think any immunity has
worn off.
Connecticut is waiting for the federal government to decide who
should be vaccinated and when.
The state expects that military personnel and at least a core
team of health care workers - about 6,000 people - will get the
vaccine. If the government recommends that all health care workers
should get the vaccine, about 110,000 to 130,000 doses will be
needed.
If an outbreak occurs and everyone must be vaccinated, the state
plans to set up more than 70 vaccination clinics run through local
health departments.
To prepare against a nuclear disaster, the state is mailing
about 270,000 potassium iodide pills to people who live near
nuclear power plants. Potassium iodide, sometimes referred to as KI
(the abbreviations for the chemical elements potassium and iodine),
prevents the thyroid gland from absorbing cancer-causing iodine
isotopes that could be released in a nuclear fallout.
Besides this, officials near the Millstone nuclear plants in
Waterford and the decommissioned Connecticut Yankee plant in Haddam
are going over their evacuation and containment plans.
Federal regulations already required such plans, but the
procedures were not integrated for the various needs of health care
workers, police, fire officials and others, Cannon said.
The Centers for Excellence is helping identify the risks,
develop protocols, get necessary equipment and bring consistency to
the action plan, he said.
Schools in Connecticut also are getting into bioterrorism. The
University of New Haven is going to be offering a national security
degree through the Sandia National Laboratory in California.
Yale University's School of Epidemiology and Public Health is
offering class starting this year on the public health management
of disasters.
The school also is seeking $1 million from the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention and the Association of Schools of
Public Health to establish a center for public health preparedness.
The proposed Yale Center for Bioterrorism and Disease Outbreaks
would develop training programs and teach courses for public health
professionals, said Brian Leaderer, the vice chairman and deputy
dean of the school.
Yale and several other schools around the country have been
approved for the grants but has not received the money yet, pending
budget decisions in Washington.
Previously, public health schools have not focused on the
management of mass disasters, but that is changing, Leaderer said.
"The one thing we realized from 9-11 and the anthrax scares and
threats of bioterrorism is that public health has suddenly become a
prominent player in trying to protect the public in general," he
said.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)