Biosecurity expert calls for better surveillance

The director of the Institute for Biosecurity at St. Louis University recently warned that the United States has not learned from the 2001 anthrax attacks.

Dr. Alan Zelicoff said that the United States lacks the proper methods and organization to identify and track an emerging biological attack.

"The key requirement for mitigating the effects of a bioterrorism attack is early detection and diagnosis," Zelicoff said. "Our current disease detection system is still hobbled by slow transfer of information to public health officials who might otherwise be able to determine unusual patterns or disease that suggests a bioterror attack."

Zelicoff said that current data mining approaches are too passive in nature and do nothing to provide solutions to on hand emergencies.

"We need a nationwide but locally-operated real-time disease surveillance system," Zelicoff said. "Nobody knows about the local health system better than the local public health officials."

The director proposed that the United States use a clinician-based reporting system that would have the ability to limit the damage caused by an attack.

Such a system would allow clinicians to immediately report information about unusual cases immediately to local public health officials who can then update a central control system that maps and reports a time graph of cases.

"Public health agencies - supported by academic research and evaluation - should move ahead with testing available, novel real-time disease surveillance systems so as to be able to recognize not only bioterrorism threats, but to respond much more quickly to the naturally-occurring infectious diseases that we are certain to encounter," Zelicoff said.