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The Daily Tar Heel

Bioterrorism Training on Rise

Representatives of the schools said they recently have been working with the N.C. Center for Public Health Preparedness, the state's central resource for threats of bioterrorism.

The state health center organizes infectious disease training and educational support for public health personnel throughout the state. Bill Roper, dean of the School of Public Health, said UNC is working with the health center to increase training for state and local personnel since last month's attacks.

"We're ready for the possibility of bioterrorism like in Florida and New York," Roper said. "We're training workers on the front line in infectious disease who may be called to help."

Robert Ryder, a UNC professor of epidemiology, said the training is not geared toward prevention but instead toward control and early detection.

"The training is in active surveillance, looking for patterns of new diseases and how to report the diseases in a timely fashion," Ryder said.

In addition to training, the center increased its advising for political organizations and the public through press conferences. "We have worked with the state on the TV and radio," Ryder said. "We also advised the anthrax task force on the microbiology aspects of the disease."

The anthrax task force was formed by the state after it was discovered that Bob Stevens, who was diagnosed with and died of anthrax in Florida, visited his daughter in Charlotte and her boyfriend in Durham in the week before his condition was discovered.

UNC Infectious Disease Division Chief Myron Cohen, who is a member of the task force, said the task force investigated possible cases of anthrax in North Carolina and formulated a plan for a public health response should an outbreak occur. "The task force reviewed 19 state hospitals for other cases of anthrax and took environmental samples from the Chimney Rock area (where Stevens' daughter's apartment is located)," Cohen said. "If we were to find more cases of anthrax, we would examine more environmental sources, give antibiotics to the infected people and trace their possible exposures."

The health center is sponsoring more education programs in the wake of recent reports of anthrax cases across the nation, from New York to California.

The health center is also sponsoring education programs with the Area Health Education Curriculum and doing research on new infectious diseases in four N.C. counties.

But if the United States becomes a victim of biological warfare, Ryder says he thinks health center's role will become more one of public education rather than one of research.

Ryder said, "Our job would be in informing the public and allaying mass hysteria."

The University Editor can be reached at udesk@unc.edu.

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