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Bioterrorism Preparedness


Bioterrorism. The intentional or threatened use of biological agents or their toxins to do harm to individuals or populations for political, religious, or personal reasons.

Unfortunately, defining the word "bioterrorism" is becoming less necessary as bioterrorist events become more common throughout the world. The probability that a bioterrorist event will occur in North Dakota may not be very high, according to some. But, despite the unlikelihood, the possibility does indeed exist. Therefore, preparation and planning are necessary so that, if an incident does occur, appropriate and effective responses can be initiated.

Laboratorians, especially microbiologists, need to be aware of the potential biological agents that may be used in a bioterrorist event. They need to have protocols in place to rapidly recognize and identify these agents. Some of the more likely agents to be used as biological weapons are Bacillus anthracis, Yersinia pestis, Clostridium botulinum toxin, Francisella tularensis, Brucella species, and smallpox virus.

To increase awareness and assist laboratories in their preparations for bioterrorist events, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has established the Laboratory Response Network (LRN) for Bioterrorism. This network consists of three different levels of laboratories with different testing capabilities to detect and identify these biological agents. (See figure.)

Sentinel laboratories are primarily clinical microbiology labs. They will be the front-line labs, since victims of a bioterrorist event will, most likely, visit their clinics or hospital emergency rooms. Sentinel laboratories are either basic capacity laboratories or advanced (Level A) labs. Basic capacity labs perform limited microbiological services and refer specimens to a higher level laboratory for testing. Advanced (Level A) sentinel labs need to be able to rule out the potential biological agents with basic microbiology techniques and forward those isolates that can’t be ruled out to a LRN reference laboratory.

In North Dakota, that LRN reference laboratory is the North Dakota Public Health Laboratory (NDPHL). The NDPHL offers testing that confirms the identity and characterizes the susceptibility of the biological agents. Currently, this testing includes Polymerase Chain Reaction, Time Resolved Fluorescence, direct fluorescent antibody (DFA), agglutination tests, phage typing, and antimicrobial susceptibility testing. The laboratory project coordinator for bioterrorism at NDPHL will work closely with sentinel laboratories in the state to offer training and consultation on the recommended identification protocols and biosafety.

To complete the network, National laboratories are responsible for specialized strain characterizations, bioforensics, select agent activity, and handling highly infectious biological agents.

With an increase in the communications occurring between all of these laboratories and the introduction of new laboratory test methods, the LRN provides a solid framework for detecting, reporting, and responding to any infectious disease, not just bioterrorism. Collaborations formed during the development of bioterrorism response plans will strengthen the surveillance and control of all endemic and emerging infectious diseases.

To Contact The Bioterrorism Project
Coordinator At NDPHL:
Tracy Hoke
North Dakota Public Health Laboratory
2635 East Main Ave
P. O. Box 5520
Bismarck, ND 58506-5520
Phone: 701.328.6284
E-Mail: tlhoke@nd.gov
Fax: 701.328.6280

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