Bioterrorism - Are We Ready?
As British Columbia prepares to host the 2010 Winter Olympics and Paralympics, first responders and health care professionals are asking if we are ready for "the unthinkable" - a bioterrorist attack within our borders.
In identifying pathogens and their transmission, medical laboratory professionals are definitely on the front lines. A highly contagious and fast-moving bioterror threat can only be identified and contained if medical laboratories and staff are adequately trained, ready, and equipped. Our experience with SARS has shown that there is no substitute for preparedness.
Another lesson of the SARS outbreak is that laboratory safety is also front and centre. Inadequate protection for laboratory personnel not only puts workers in deadly danger, but also compromises the crucial front-line mission of identifying threats promptly, and as part of an efficient and coordinated team.
November 24: BCSLS conference on bioterrorism
To support healthcare professionals and public health personnel in preparing for a potential bioterrorism threat, BCSLS is launching a series of conferences on this emerging threat. The first conference, "Bioterrorism – Are We Ready?," takes place November 24 at the Justice Institute of B.C. in New Westminster.
The keynote speaker at this initial conference is Dr. Steven Jones, Ph.D., a leading expert on immunopathology, emerging bacterial diseases, and the public health response to bioterror. With experience at the UK’s Porton Down biological weapons defence laboratory, Dr. Jones now heads the team responsible for counter-bioterrorism at the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg. Besides leading training in counter-bioterrorism for the RCMP and the Canadian Forces, he also directs the Public Health Agency of Canada’s component of the National CBRNE (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and Explosive) response team.
Among the other expert speakers at the conference will be Cecil Unrau, an authority on Emergency Planning and Management, specializing in CBRNE and bioterrorism. A member of the JIBC faculty, Unrau is also an expert in delivering experiential training for health professionals in dealing with bioterrorist and hazardous-substance emergencies
For more information on the conference and presenters, see the conference poster.
Online registration is now open, and attendance is limited. Click here to register online, or here for the mail-in registration form.
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Resources for Medical Laboratory Professionals
The September 11, 2001, attack on the United States focused new urgency on dealing with potential terrorist attacks on our continent. In Canada, the SARS outbreak was not only a wake-up call, but offered the opportunity to examine, in detail, the strengths and weaknesses of our preparedness for an unexpected public health disaster involving a fast-moving and deadly contagion.
Since these events, new attention has been focused on the threat of bioterrorism and how to deal with potential attacks. In support of the BCSLS Bioterrorism conference, the Objective has collected background materials that will be of specific interest to medical laboratory professionals. Click on any of the titles below to connect to these online resources.
Public Health Agency of Canada
The Public Health Agency of Canada has posted considerable information on bioterrorism on its website. A good starting point is the PHAC’s policy document on Bioterrorism and Emergency Preparedness, which sets out the basic framework for response to an attack. For a look behind the policy and the new directions in laboratory response to public health emergencies, see Chapter 6 of Health Canada’s official investigation, Learning from SARS. The PHAC also has a very complete collection of online CBRNE resources, many of which are of direct professional interest to medical laboratory staff.
The Risks to Medical Professionals – The Experience of SARS
The Final Report of the SARS Commission put the safety of health professionals, and particularly laboratory staff, in stark relief. Chapter five of the report, The Victims of SARS; Death on the Front Lines is a moving portrayal of the lethal reality hospital workers face. The Report's Recommendations highlight the need for dramatic improvements in how medical professionals are safeguarded. The CSMLS brief to the Commission, SARS, a Reminder, a Warning, and an Opportunity, which the Objective featured in issue 13, also offers guidance on the critical role of laboratory professionals and the need for safety and security in the laboratory setting.
Medical Laboratory Observer
Medical Laboratory Observer – MLO – has featured bioterrorism in several recent articles. A good starting point is MLO’s 2001 overview of laboratory preparedness. In a 2003 story, MLO looked at "sentinel" labs – the U.S. front line in bioterrorism detection – and their readiness. Although the sentinel lab organization is specific to the U.S., the MLO article offers considerable detail on specific pathogens and testing protocols. In a 2005 cover story, MLO also looked at the interface between the military and civilian laboratory systems, giving attention to several specific pathogens.
Centers for Disease Control
The CDC in the U.S. also has excellent resources for medical laboratories in dealing with bioterrorism. For background, see the CDC’s research paper on the critical importance of medical laboratories as the front line in detecting bioterrorist threats. To find your way into the organization’s wealth of online bioterrorism information for laboratories, including detailed information on specific pathogens, start with this CDC portal page.
The U.S. Military Response to Bioterrorism
Finally, for a fascinating look at how the world’s biggest military power sees the laboratory response to bioterrorism, see this article from the U.S. Office of Homeland Security. The U.S. military response network includes not only Health Canada, but also the Suffield, Alberta, Defence Research Establishment.
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Register Now for Bioterrorism - Are We Ready?
Space is limited for the November 24 conference, so register now. Until November 9, registration is available at the Early Bird rate of $125 for BCSLS members and $175 for non-members. After November 9, rates are $150 and $200. For further information, and links to registration, see the BCSLS website or contact BCSLS at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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