The role of the clinical laboratory in managing chemical or biological terrorism.
BACKGROUND: Domestic and international acts of terrorism using chemicals and pathogens as weapons have recently attracted much attention because of several hoaxes and real incidents. Clinical laboratories, especially those affiliated with major trauma centers, should be prepared to respond rapidly by providing diagnostic tests for the detection and identification of specific agents, so that specific therapy and victim management can be initiated in a timely manner. As first-line responders, clinical laboratory personnel should become familiar with the various chemical or biological agents and be active participants in their local defense programs. APPROACH: We review the selected agents previously considered or used in chemical and biological warfare, outline their poisonous and pathogenic effects, describe techniques used in their identification, address some of the logistical and technical difficulties in maintaining such tests in clinical laboratories, and comment on some of the analytical issues, such as specimen handling and personal protective equipment. CONTENT: The chemical agents discussed include nerve, blistering, and pulmonary agents and cyanides. Biological agents, including anthrax and smallpox, are also discussed as examples for organisms with potential use in bioterrorism. Available therapies for each agent are outlined to assist clinical laboratory personnel in making intelligent decisions regarding implementation of diagnostic tests as a part of a comprehensive defense program. SUMMARY: As the civilian medical community prepares for biological and chemical terrorist attacks, improvement in the capabilities of clinical laboratories is essential in supporting counterterrorism programs designed to respond to such attacks. Accurate assessment of resources in clinical laboratories is important because it will provide local authorities with an alternative resource for immediate diagnostic analysis. It is, therefore, recommended that clinical laboratories identify their current resources and the extent of support they can provide, and inform the authorities of their state of readiness. (+info
Precautions against biological and chemical terrorism directed at food and water supplies.
Deliberate food and water contamination remains the easiest way to distribute biological or chemical agents for the purpose of terrorism, despite the national focus on dissemination of these agents as small-particle aerosols or volatile liquids. Moreover, biological terrorism as a result of sabotage of our food supply has already occurred in the United States. A review of naturally occurring food- and waterborne outbreaks exposes this vulnerability and reaffirms that, depending on the site of contamination, a significant number of people could be infected or injured over a wide geographic area. Major knowledge gaps exist with regard to the feasibility of current disinfection and inspection methods to protect our food and water against contamination by a number of biological and chemical agents. However, a global increase in food and water safety initiatives combined with enhanced disease surveillance and response activities are our best hope to prevent and respond quickly to food- and waterborne bioterrorism. (+info
New York City Department of Health response to terrorist attack, September 11, 2001.
In response to two jet aircraft crashing into and causing the collapse of the 110-storied World Trade Center (WTC) towers and the subsequent destruction of nearby portions of lower Manhattan, the New York City Department of Health (NYCDOH) immediately activated its emergency response protocol, including the mobilization of an Emergency Operations Center. Surveillance, clinical, environmental, sheltering, laboratory, management information systems, and operations were among the preestablished emergency committees. Because of its proximity to the WTC site, an emergency clinic was established at NYCDOH for triage and treatment of injured persons. NYCDOH focused its initial efforts on assessing the public health and medical impact of the attack and the resources needed to respond to it such as the care and management of large numbers of persons injured or killed by the crash; subsequent fire and building collapse; the health and safety of rescue workers; the environmental health risks (e.g., asbestos, smoke, dust, or chemical inhalation); other illnesses related to the disruption of the physical infrastructure (e.g., waterborne and foodborne diseases); and mental health concerns. Despite the evacuation and relocation of NYCDOH's headquarters, the department continued essential public health services, including death registration. (+info
Effects of sarin on the nervous system in rescue team staff members and police officers 3 years after the Tokyo subway sarin attack.
Although the clinical manifestations of acute sarin poisoning have been reported in detail, no comprehensive study of the chronic physical and psychiatric effects of acute sarin poisoning has been carried out. To clarify the chronic effects of sarin on the nervous system, a cross-sectional epidemiologic study was conducted 3 years after the Tokyo subway sarin attack. Subjects consisted of the rescue team staff members and police officers who had worked at the disaster site. Subjects consisted of 56 male exposed subjects and 52 referent subjects matched for age and occupation. A neurobehavioral test, stabilometry, and measurement of vibration perception thresholds were performed, as well as psychometric tests to assess traumatic stress symptoms. The exposed group performed less well in the backward digit span test than the referent group in a dose-effect manner. This result was the same after controlling for possible confounding factors and was independent of traumatic stress symptoms. In other tests of memory function, except for the Benton visual retention test (mean correct answers), effects related to exposure were also suggested, although they were not statistically significant. In contrast, the dose-effect relationships observed in the neurobehavioral tests (psychomotor function) were unclear. None of the stabilometry and vibration perception threshold parameters had any relation to exposure. Our findings suggest the chronic decline of memory function 2 years and 10 months to 3 years and 9 months after exposure to sarin in the Tokyo subway attack, and further study is needed. (+info
The World Trade Center attack. Lessons for all aspects of health care.
The attack on the World Trade Center had the potential to overwhelm New York's health services. Sadly, however, the predicted thousands of treatable patients failed to materialize. Horror and sadness has now been replaced by anger, fear, and the determination to be better prepared next time. This determination not only exists in politics but also in health care, and as with all attempts to enforce change there needs to be a period of collecting opinions and data. This article introduces nine reviews in Critical Care offering varied health care perspectives of the events of 11 September 2001 from people who were there and from experts in disaster management. (+info
The World Trade Center attack. The paramedic response: an insider's view.
The World Trade Center attack and collapse is the first time an aircraft has been used as a weapon of mass effect. The scale and magnitude of this manmade disaster can only be compared with a natural catastrophe such as the Armenian earthquake of December 1988. The importance of an incident command system and the Simple Triage and Rapid Treatment, and the need for fixed Casualty Collection Points, is explained. (+info
The World Trade Center attack. Doctors in the fire and police services.
The World Trade Center attack cast some physicians in roles outside their usual hospital practice. The incident required several physicians to function in the dangerous environment of the disaster. Priorities and triage strategies established by the police, emergency medical service and fire departments, while adhered to, required instantaneous modification and upgrading given the vast loss of civilian and rescue personnel lives. Many civilian medical staff presented themselves with good intentions but needed to be placed out of the collapse zone for fear of incurring additional casualties. In addition, problems with re-establishment of command and control, communications, personnel and equipment replacement all impacted on the rescue effort. This article recounts the roles played by the two coauthors during the World Trade Center attack. (+info
The World Trade Center attack. Observations from New York's Bellevue Hospital.
This report describes selected aspects of the response by Bellevue Hospital Center to the World Trade Center attack of 11 September 2001. The hospital is 2.5 miles (4 km) from the site of the attack. These first-hand observations and this analysis may aid in future preparations. Key issues described relate to communication, organization, injuries treated, staffing, and logistics. (+info