Friday, July 1, 2011

Preparing for bioterrorism and other medical emergencies

In the aftermath of 9/11 and the anthrax attacks of 2001, AFP published a review article on "Recognition and Management of Bioterrorism," recognizing that primary care clinicians would be on the front lines of any future bioterrorist attack. Other critical resources for family physicians now include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Bioterrorism resource page, the MedlinePlus collection on Biodefense and Bioterrorism, and the American Academy of Family Physicians' Preparedness Manual for Disasters and Public Health Emergencies.

Although the unpredictable threat of bioterrorism can seem distant from day-to-day practice, Drs. Mark Harris and Kevin Yeskey remind us in an editorial in the July 1st issue of AFP that family physicians continue to play a "vital role" in protecting all Americans from the consequences of these attacks:

The first diagnosis of anthrax in the 2001 attack was in an emergency department. A salmonella outbreak in Oregon in 1984 that was later found to be bioterrorism-related was discovered after primary care physicians reported to their health department large numbers of patients with diarrhea who had eaten at two local restaurants. This type of passive surveillance is the early warning system for naturally occurring outbreaks, and for bioterrorism events. An astute physician who diagnoses a reportable illness and alerts the local health department may be detecting a bioterrorism attack, possibly saving his or her patient and many others.

Additional free AFP online resources to help physicians prepare for a variety of natural and man-made medical emergencies include a clinical review of emergency preparedness in office practice and a Curbside Consultation on professional training for emergency situations.