Clements says education is best weapon against biological outbreaks, attacks

The United States is "absolutely prepared" for a biological threat or outbreak, Tulane University's chair of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology told BioPrepWatch in a recent interview.

"The problem isn't in preparation for an outbreak or attack," John Clements said. "We have the medical system and public health preparedness for an outbreak or attack. What we don't have is (the ability) to fight an epidemic of fear that is promulgated by politicians and news organizations."

The professor at the New Orleans university said doctors and public health practitioners in the U.S. are ready for a biological outbreak or attack, but there is more that can be done, according to Clements.

"We need better public education," Clements said. "In the anthrax attacks, five people died and the whole country went into a tailspin. To put this into perspective, 36,000 people died from the flu, 40,000 died in car accidents and 20,000 of those were caused by drunk drivers."

He surmised that the probability of dying from anthrax is like being hit by lightning while holding the winning lottery ticket, and that the solution to fighting public panic is information.

"We need to encourage people to get their vaccinations, to wash their hands and not to be skeptical, because an informed public is our best weapon," Clements said.

In addition to his teaching experience, Clements served as a United Nations weapons inspector and as a biological weapons inspector in Iraq in 2003 and 2004.