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Wednesday, 24 October, 2001, 17:57 GMT 18:57 UK
America 'not ready' for bio-attack
The UK and US may jointly purchase antibiotics
American hospitals are not sufficiently equipped to deal with large numbers of victims following a biological attack, suggest two surveys.

The studies, detailed in the New Scientist Magazine, said that emergency departments are ready for "conventional" terrorist attacks such as bombings, but not bio-attacks.

Before September 11, the threat of an attack with weapons of mass destruction was really just theoretical

Janet Williams
In the first survey, carried out by a team at West Virginia University before the September 11 attacks in New York, 30 US hospitals were contacted at random.

A total of 26 said they would only be able to handle a maximum of 15 victims in the event of a bio-terror attack.

Twenty-two of those hospitals revealed they would not be able to handle a chemical or nuclear attack.

'Wake-up call'

Author of the study, Janet Williams, director of West Virginia University's Center for Rural Emergency Medicine said: "Before September 11, the threat of an attack with weapons of mass destruction was really just theoretical.

"September 11 changed all that. It was a wake-up call. What I hope will come is that this will fuel the federal government into getting everybody trained."

Dr Williams said since 11 September the situation had changed because it had now become a priority to direct resources towards preparing for such an attack.

She said her department would be conducting a further, similar study, funded by the American government, in the coming months, but stressed the risk of mass destruction from biological weapons was still very low.

Another study, carried out in May by researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle, revealed that less than 20% of hospitals had plans in place to deal with a biological or chemical attack.

A total of 186 hospitals in four north-western states were asked how prepared they would be to deal with 50 victims of sarin gas or anthrax.

Nearly 30% of the hospitals admitted they would not have sufficient drugs to treat the sarin gas victims and 64% did not have enough antibiotics to treat the anthrax exposures.

Alan Milburn
Alan Milburn: "It would be foolish not to be vigilant"
Author of the second study, Charles David Treser, said: "It's not that we are unprepared, but we are certainly under-prepared.

"Our public health resources are stretched very thin."

Meanwhile, in Britain, health secretary Alan Milburn has stressed UK hospitals would be adequately prepared to deal with bio-warfare.

He said emergency services and "frontline" doctors had all been issued with new bio-terror guidelines and there was a lot of Anglo-American co-operation with regard to vaccines.

Mr Milburn stressed that all governments had an obligation to prepare for any eventuality however remote the risk might be.

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