Local News

N.C. Seen As Leader In State-Level Bioterrorism Preparedness

Posted March 24, 2003 4:52 a.m. EST

— From 9/11, to the anthrax scares, to the war in the Gulf -- so far, North Carolina has been spared from any direct bioterrorism hits.

But that doesn't mean the state isn't preparing for the worst. Monday, public health leaders gave an update on their preparedness plan.

Thanks to gas masks and chemical suits, U.S. troops are about as prepared as possible for biological or chemical attacks. Here at home, experts say people are much more prepared than a year ago.

Homeland Security

Seven regional reponse teams have vaccinated 875 health-care workers against smallpox. The state has 8 million doses of vaccine, enough to vaccinate everyone, if needed.

Smallpox gets the most attention. But state health director Dr. Leah Devlin said the plan covers any act of bioterrorism.

"We feel that our plan is broad enough so we can get the right people with the right expertise to the table," Devlin said, "and the system will take it from there."

Future campaigns will focus on chemical attacks and dirty bombs. Experts say that, in many ways, North Carolina is well ahead of other states.

"At meeting after meeting that I'm at on the national level," said Bill Roper, Director of the School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, "North Carolina is pointed to as the example for how a state has come together to deal with this problem."

But the plan isn't perfect. The state doesn't know which bioterrorist agents are likely to be used.

Schools need more protection. So do people who have reactions from smallpox vaccinations.

Experts point out that these safeguards aren't a passing neccessity.

"We're never going to be able to heave a sigh, relax, and go on to other things," Roper said.

Instead, it's part of a permanent way of life.