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New Program to Deliver Bioterror Info to US Doctors - 2002-04-12

Major drug companies in the United States are teaming up with the federal government to help doctors get information to help them recognize and treat bioterrorism-related illnesses. The new program was announced in 13 U.S. cities on Thursday, including Chicago.

Under the new program, drug company representatives making their regular sales calls will distribute newly-published information about anthrax to doctors and other health professionals.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America suggested the program. It represents the drug industry. Tom Peter is a vice president at GlaxoSmithKline, one of the participating companies. "Physicians will be better able to communicate with their patients and hopefully, allay the fears of bioterrorism as well as have a ready-reference on questions specific to anthrax," he said.

The first reference guide is for anthrax. It offers basic information on types of the disease, photographs of what an affected patient's skin or chest x-ray should look like and current treatment guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Chief of Emergency Medical Services at Cook County Hospital in Chicago, Dr. Robert Simon, said last year's anthrax scare in the United States showed one of the biggest problems in fighting this type of bioterrorism is a lack of knowledge. "We are asking physicians to have knowledge of a disease that they have never seen before," he said. "Not in their training or in any other situation. To make it even harder, the diseases in bioterrorism they are being asked to look for: the signs, the symptoms, the way the patient presents, are that of a common cold with bronchitis."

Last year, two postal workers in Washington DC who eventually died from anthrax had gone to the hospital, but were sent home after being told they had the flu.

Dr. Russ Zajtchuk of Rush Medical Center in Chicago said the information guides are a good first step in educating health care providers about bioterrorism-related illness. He thinks the nation's medical schools should teach the next generation of doctors about these ailments. "I would like to make a recommendation that every medical school start educating physicians and nurses and health care professionals early," he said. "Because, it is not a question of whether the threat will be coming, it is a question of when it will come."

The pharmaceutical industry has printed 20,000 anthrax guides for this trial program. If they are well-received, the industry plans reference guides for smallpox, plague and other likely bioterrorism-related illnesses.