AAFP addresses role of physicians in stopping bioterrorism

The American Academy of Family Physicians recently addressed the vital role primary care physicians play in protecting the United States against bioterrorism.

An astute physician who diagnoses a reportable illness and informs their local health department may actually be helping the nation stop a bioterrorism event, all while saving the lives of their patient and potentially many others, according to AAFP.org.

The New England Journal of Medicine reported that the first anthrax diagnosis in the 2001 attack was made in a local emergency department. A 1984 salmonella outbreak, later linked to bioterrorism, was discovered after primary care physicians reported a string of patients with diarrhea who had eaten at two local restaurants.

The first step for the local practitioner to be prepared in the case of a bioterror-related event is personal preparedness. This includes having one’s home and family ready for such an event. Being up to date with U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention immunizations and practicing proper hygiene skills are fundamentals, according to AAFP.org.

The second step includes making sure that the physician’s office staff is competent in clinical fundamentals of bioterrorism. This includes the ability to diagnose and treat conditions that might be caused by bioterror agents, and being knowledgeable about post-exposure management, including post-exposure smallpox vaccination and anthrax prophylaxis for asymptomatic patients who may have been exposed. Being prepared also includes offering counseling to help prevent the psychological effects of terrorism.

The third step is preparing the physician’s office for the logistical and procedural necessities that accompany reporting a bioterrorism-related event. There must be a convenient and reliable means to report disease to local and state health departments. In order to facilitate this, the AAFP recommends getting to know public health professionals in the area to make communication easier in case of disaster.

The fourth and final step in biopreparedness for the local practitioner is getting involved in community, state and national health initiatives. The Medical Reserve Corps and Disaster Medical Assistance Teams use volunteer health professionals to support local emergency and public health resources.