The University Record, April 16, 2001

Anti-bioterrorism efforts help prepare for public health crises

By Colleen Newvine
News and Information Services

Boulton
Matthew Boulton believes the risk of a bioterrorism attack in Michigan is small, but as the state epidemiologist and a leader in the state’s bioterrorism preparedness effort, he sees a number of benefits to establishing a statewide plan of action.

For example, public health officials already have a monitoring system in place to watch for such infectious diseases as measles, hepatitis, E. coli and listeria. By strengthening that monitoring network to include contact with public safety and medical officials when a health care provider sees the first sign of specific symptoms associated with bioterrorism, the state also is better prepared to react to the early signals of other health crises such as a pandemic or worldwide flu outbreak.

Boulton, clinical associate professor of epidemiology, is a featured speaker at the Michigan Conference on Terrorism and Domestic Preparedness conference April 18–20 in Lansing. The title of the event is “Assessing the Threat . . . Planning for the Future.”

In his presentation, titled “Bioterrorism: Public Health’s Newest Challenge,” Boulton will provide an overview of the unique challenges posed by building bioterrorism preparedness and response capacity into Michigan’s public health system.

Deciding what’s needed to defend against bioterrorism requires considering the many possible ways such an attack could unfold. Terrorists could announce their actions in advance, or they could covertly release an infectious agent that would not be discovered until people began to fall ill. A disease such as small pox is easy to spread because it is communicable and virtually everyone is susceptible, while an agent such as anthrax would harm only those who came into contact with it directly. What all pathogens that are possible agents of bioterrorism have in common is high morbidity and mortality rates from infection, Boulton said.

“It’s important to place bioterrorism in its proper place on the spectrum,” Boulton said. “It’s a theoretical risk and I think a small risk. But do we need to be prepared? Yes.”

Boulton helped write the proposal resulting in the 1999 award of a five-year grant expected to total at least $3 million from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help the state plan for bioterrorism. It was the fourth largest such grant in the country. Now Boulton has primary responsibility for building Michigan’s public health bioterrorism planning and response capacity.

For more information on the conference, visit the Web at www.msp.state.mi.us/division/emd/terrorism_conference_2001.htm#S.