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.