Experts have said the United States is “totally unprepared” to counter animal-spread disease epidemics involving biological warfare agents, the New York Daily News reported Sunday (see GSN, Sept. 26).
U.S. efforts against biological threats have been hampered by squabbling among the various agencies involved in the effort and by a lack of interagency communication, experts said. For example, when the U.S. Health and Human Services recently announced a plan to convert the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps into a rapid-response antibiological terrorism force, it was publicly opposed by the heads of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and by the Food and Drug Administration, the Daily News reported.
Efforts to counter the West Nile virus, which has so far infected more than 6,000 people this year, illustrate the level of U.S. unpreparedness to combat such epidemics, said Duane Gubler, chief of the CDC’s vector-borne infectious disease laboratory.
“West Nile was a wakeup call. We would have been just as unprepared for any other new pathogen,” Gubler said. “That is a real national security concern,” he added (Brian Kates, New York Daily News, Oct. 12).
U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) yesterday also criticized the current state of U.S. defenses against bioterrorism.
Two years after the 2001 anthrax attacks, which killed five people, the United States still lacks effective biological countermeasures and emergency medical personnel are still not adequately funded, Lieberman, the top Democrat on the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, said in a press statement.
“The casualty potential of a biological attack is far greater than any other mode of terrorist attack we have seen to date and the administration’s progress has been negligible,” Lieberman said. “We clearly are not prepared for a serious bioterror attack. And we need to undertake bold, new steps to get ready,” he added (U.S. Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Minority Office release, Oct. 14).