NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Doctors Lack Training For Diagnosing Biological Attack Diseases

October 4, 2001

Experts say most doctors have never seen cases of anthrax or smallpox -- the two diseases the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention believe most likely to be introduced in the event of a terrorist biological attack. What's more, they are likely to misdiagnose them as severe cases of the flu and not treat them for what they are before it's too late.

Here's how anthrax develops in humans:

  • Not until16 days after exposure do victims start to develop flu-like symptoms, including fever, chills and difficulty in breathing.
  • Fatalities average 90 percent unless the patient is treated before the symptoms appear -- and death generally occurs within 36 hours of the first symptoms.
  • The common antibiotic Ciprofloxacin is used for treating anthrax.

As for smallpox:

  • Ten to 14 days after exposure, a high fever sets in, followed by large blisters days later.
  • As with anthrax, medication -- smallpox vaccine in this case -- must be administered before symptoms appear.
  • Vaccine cuts that risk, but without treatment the mortality rate is almost 40 percent.

Doctors complain that they haven't received any information from the government that would help them identify and battle the diseases. As director of public health at the CDC, Dr. Paul Halverson is in charge of helping state and local governments prepare. Asked why the CDC has not sent doctors information about bioterrorism diseases or pushed state health departments to do so, he says he wants to avoid creating "heightened anxiety."

Source: Betsy McCaughey (Hudson Institute), "Next Terror Attack May Be Biological, But U.S. Doctors Aren't Ready for It," Investor's Business Daily, October 4, 2001.


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