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ACP-ASIM Takes Steps to Prepare Primary Care Physicians for Bioterrorist Attack

(Washington, DC): The American College of Physicians - American Society of Internal Medicine (ACP-ASIM) is taking a series of steps to help prepare primary care physicians for a terrorist attack using biological or chemical agents, announced ACP-ASIM President William Hall, MD, today.

"The September 11 terrorist attacks and the anthrax contaminated mail that followed were a wake-up call to the medical profession about the need for preparation to respond to biological or chemical attacks," said Dr. Hall. "The anthrax incidents clearly demonstrated how disruptive a bioterrorist attack can be, even one of relatively limited scope."

The College maintains that physicians, nurses, and medical and public health organizations are unprepared to respond to a bioterrorism attack. It is especially important for primary care physicians to prepare for such an eventuality, since they would be on the front lines of response to any such attack.

ACP-ASIM recently convened a Bioterrorism Task Force to provide oversight of the development and evaluation of College activities in the area of biological and chemical terrorism. The organization established a Bioterrorism Resource Center in 1998, and has been updating it to reflect current events. It is a comprehensive online educational resource for primary care physicians that features information and recommendations for the diagnosis and treatment of biological agents. It includes:

  1. therapeutic recommendations for treatment of biological agents such as anthrax, smallpox and plague;

  2. diagnostic tools to aid in treatment, including images of cutaneous and inhalation anthrax and smallpox, and a case study;

  3. links to online bioterrorism courses; and,

  4. information for patients on how to distinguish between colds, flu and anthrax.

ACP-ASIM also has educational resources for physicians and patients about the appropriate use of antibiotics. The latter topic has become of increasing concern as the public's fear about anthrax has driven some people to use antibiotics inappropriately, and may have serious health consequences.

Policy Actions

The College is making a series of policy recommendations in recognition of the fact that only a coordinated effort by the federal government, in partnership with state and local health departments, elected officials and physicians, would be able to stave off a potential disaster resulting from the use of bioterrorism agents.

These include:

  • Congress should appropriate the necessary funding for local public health departments and hospitals to develop appropriate crisis management structures and plans for dealing with a biological or chemical attack.

  • Sufficient funding should be available to ensure that every community has the surge capacity (the ability of hospitals to handle a sharp increase in patients), decontamination units, and necessary medical supplies readily available to treat patients in the case of a mass casualty event.

  • Congress should provide the necessary funding to national and local medical societies, hospitals, medical schools, and teaching hospitals for the education and training individual physicians and hospital communities about the threat of a biological or chemical attack.

  • Congress should appropriate the funding necessary to ensure that adequate supplies of vaccines and antibiotics are available throughout the country in the event of a biological attack.

  • If there are shortages of necessary drugs and it becomes necessary in order to protect the general welfare of the public, ACP-ASIM supports invoking a federal law allowing generic drug makers to bypass a drug manufacturer's patent to produce a drug for the government.

ACP-ASIM is the nation's largest medical specialty organization and the second largest physician group. Membership encompasses more than 115,000 internal medicine physicians and medical students.

Full text of the policy is available online at: http://www.acponline.org/hpp/attack_prepare.htm

Jennifer Whalen, 202-261-4575, jwhalen@acponline.org
Jack Pope, 202-261-4556, jpope@acponline.org

Page updated: 11-04-03

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