U.S. woefully unprepared for bioattack, report says

A report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Trust for America's Health says that the recent spread of the H1N1 flu virus in the United States has shown that the medical care system is not prepared to handle the demands that a bioterrorist act would place upon it.

The report states that the flu outbreak, "vividly demonstrated the existing gaps in public health preparedness. Decades of chronic underfunding of public health meant that many of the core systems that would have been invaluable to have in place during an emergency were not at-the ready when H1N1 emerged," and noted that disproportionate cuts were made by 27 states over the last year to their public health budgets. The report says that most states are not prepared for the influx of patients an attack would create.

Additional funding has been provided to deal with emergencies, the "Ready or Not? Protecting the Public's Health from Disease, Disasters and Bioterrorism" report noted, but that funding is not as effective as continued support for preparedness.

The report criticizes the nation's lack of a federal clearinghouse that would share best practice information for the planning and development of crisis standards of care.

Fourteen states were found to have deficient systems for transporting samples to best tested for disease to labs in a quick manner. Eleven states and Washington, D.C., were found to lack sufficient personnel to staff public health laboratories for 12 hour days, five days a week over six to eight weeks while dealing with an outbreak.

Due to the flu's spread, the report says, "laboratory testing capability was quickly overwhelmed in some states by the surge in specimens, which affected the ability of health officials to get an up-to-date, real-time understanding of the progress of the disease across the country,"

Vaccine administration during the flu crisis was also criticized, with the report stating that, despite years of planning, state health departments struggled with their limited resources to distribute and administer the appropriate vaccines to citizens.

The report also notes that, despite a law that was passed three years ago that mandated established standards for conducting emergency response drills, none have yet been create.