Disease experts, medical supplies sent to New York

Staffers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are in New York City looking for warning signs of plague, smallpox and other infectious diseases in the wake of Tuesday's attacks, according to a spokesman at the Health and Human Services Department.

CDC has also advised state and local health officials and hospitals to be on alert for any symptoms associated with such diseases.

"Our emergency resources stand ready to be provided quickly to those who need them," HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson said. "We are taking this step to support the medical personnel and facilities in New York, so that they can deliver the best possible care to those who have been injured."

Thirty-five members of CDC's Epidemic Intelligence Service are to be stationed at New York hospitals to help city health officials, the spokesman said. They will monitor any potential outbreaks of infectious diseases, assess ongoing medical support needs, identify existing health problems, such as allergic reactions to dust and debris from the collapse of the World Trade Center towers and surrounding buildings, and determine whether already-deployed resources should be shifted to meet any new medical needs.

For the first time, CDC also made use of the National Pharmaceutical Stockpile when it sent a "12-Hour Push Package," a giant shipment of medical and pharmaceutical supplies capable of treating more than 100,000 people for a week, to New York last week. In addition to basic medical supplies, including more than 80,000 bags of intravenous fluid and hundreds of portable and stationary ventilators, the "push pack" also contained drugs to counteract the effects of plague and tularemia, a bacterium usually carried by rats or rodents that can infect humans.

The packs include medication to deal with anthrax outbreaks. But in testimony given in May before the House Government Reform subcommittee on National Security, Veterans' Affairs and International Relations, James Hughes, director of CDC's National Center for Infectious Diseases, said "more work needs to be done to get [the push packs] fully up to the level they should be to deal with anthrax."

A CDC spokesman said there is no reason to believe an act of bioterrorism has been carried out in either of the attacks on New York or Washington. The spokesman added that city and state health officials, as well as the CDC, are constantly vigilant for signs of an outbreak of plague, anthrax or any other communicable disease, and that the workers from the CDC, which is headquartered in Atlanta, were sent primarily to support overwhelmed health officials in New York.

The shipment of the push pack is the first major test of CDC's National Pharmaceutical Stockpile program. Each of the eight massive packs is supposed to be delivered to a trauma site in 12 hours or less. The CDC spokesman said the pack that ultimately arrived in New York last Wednesday was delivered in seven hours, though he declined to say how it was transported.

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