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UNC Program Offers Doctors Quick Reference For Bioterrorism Outbreaks

Posted November 12, 2001

— Treating cases of bioterrorism has become quite a learning experience for doctors. Most doctors have never seen a case of anthrax.

A chart listing the possible symptoms of biological diseases is the latest tool in the state's fight against bioterrorism.

Until recently, medical training focused on illnesses that doctors generally would encounter on a daily basis -- not things like anthrax or smallpox. However, as the threat of bio-terrorism becomes more real, so does the need for more hands-on information.

In the emergency department, a diagnosis must be quick and accurate. With concerns over bioterrorist attacks, health care workers at UNC-Chapel Hill have designed a bioterrorism poster that includes the signs and symptoms of the world's deadliest diseases.

"We chose the list based on those agents that were most likely to be used by a bioterrorist because of their transmission and death rates," said Dr. Karen Hoffmann, associate director of the Statewide Program for Infection Control and Epidemiology at UNC.

The poster includes information on how each disease is transmitted and treated. It is useful information on diseases that most doctors have only read about.

"It really helps us give the patients accurate information which helps allay any fears they have," said Dr. Tripp Winslow.

"Very few doctors have seen these agents in their clinical practices and they receive very little training in medical school because they don't anticipate that they would have to see any agents that would be used for bioterrorism," said Hoffmann.

The full-color poster is being sent this week to all 169 of North Carolina's hospitals and 89 public health clinics. If the money becomes available, the posters will be sent to urgent care centers and doctors' offices.

Since there is nothing else like it available, demand for the posters could reach outside of the state.

"The availability of the poster outside of North Carolina is right now being looked at by various agencies and institutions and we hope that will go nationwide," said Hoffman.

Plans are already in the works to put out a second poster which will include information on ebola and chemical agents.

Hoffmann said that the poster was actually developed last year to raise awareness among doctors about potential biological weapons. The project was put on a fast track after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the anthrax incidents that followed.

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