Rockford readies disease defenses

Rockford readies disease defenses

By Joe Baker

Rockford readies disease defenses

By Joe Baker

Senior editor

Prospects of a potential biological attack by Islamic terrorists have generated fear among Americans.

The appearance of two anthrax cases in Florida and a possible link with terrorists has prompted frantic efforts by many to get some kind of protection.

One Army-Navy surplus store in the Rockford area reported receiving up to 30 phone calls a day seeking gas masks. Some of the calls have come from distant points such as Colorado, Utah and Florida.

The store operator said one call was from a corporate attorney in Chicago with offices in the Sears Tower. He said he would pay any price for a gas mask.

High demand, however, has made that item scarce. The store proprietor said much of the gas mask production has been earmarked for the military here or abroad. The Israeli military, she said, is taking 500,000 masks.

The local store is out of gas masks at present. Before the Sept. 11 attacks, they sold a few to pest control technicians.

How ready are we, and what can people do to protect themselves? Dennis Lolli, director of the Winnebago County Emergency Services Disaster Agency, said in the event of an actual attack, or even the possibility of one, notification would come from the federal government to the county and the state.

Lolli said the county would then notify the local medical community to be sure they are ready to accept patients. Walk-in clinics particularly would be alerted.

He said the first step is to identify what organism is involved and then get the appropriate vaccine or treatment.

Mike Bacon, public health director for the Winnebago County Health Department, said antibiotics would be used to treat anthrax. In the case of smallpox, he said, vaccine would be delivered by the federal Centers for Disease Control within eight to 12 hours if an outbreak were confirmed.

“The federal level has supplies,” he said. Bacon said an advisory council was created about 18 months ago and has been working to develop a response plan for a biological threat.

He said the council obtained a small grant to further develop such a plan in detail. He expects it will take six to 10 months to create a detailed action plan.

“We’re searching for resources,” Bacon said. “We’re increasing preparedness over the next several months. The basics are already here,” he added.

Hospital laboratories in Rockford say they are ready to deal with smallpox and anthrax. Doctors have attended workshops and training conferences to prepare them to identify the organisms.

As for testing for these diseases, Bacon said the procedures are highly specialized and would call for a category three lab. There are only one or two of those in the state, he said.

Hospital spokespersons said biological samples probably would be sent to Chicago for testing.

Lolli said the possibility of such an attack in Winnebago County and northern Illinois is remote, but we must be alert and prepared. He said security measures are in place at government and public facilities.

How is this stuff delivered? One way that has been mentioned is by hot air balloon or crop-dusting airplanes or helicopters.

While crop-dusting airplanes are reported to be grounded nationally, local authorities were unable to be contacted on the subject. In the last year, the area was sprayed by helicopter for gypsy moths, which local activists said was harmful to the public health.

Attorney Charles Thomas is a well-known

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local balloonist. He said all hot air balloons were grounded for three weeks after Sept. 11 but are flying again.

As for dispersal of biological agents from a balloon, Thomas said he believes that would be impractical. “It’s the last thing I would pick if I were doing that,” Thomas said. “It (the agent) wouldn’t disperse quickly enough because you are subject to the wind in a balloon. You couldn’t get away from it fast enough.”

The Red Cross advises people to be prepared for any kind of disaster, whether biological or not. Red Cross disaster kits are available at chapter headquarters, 727 N. Church St.

The six-pound kits contain such items as water pouches, food bars, body warmers, poncho, flashlight, batteries, blanket, whistle, light sticks, dust mask and plastic bags. There also are first aid supplies and hygienic supplies such as tissues and towelettes. Kits come for various prices.

The Red Cross recommends one gallon of water and 1500 calories of food for each person, each day. The agency also urges each family to make a disaster plan of its own. Talk about what to do if you have to leave your home or if family members are in different locations in a time of disaster. Plan how to care for your pets. Show each family member how to use a fire extinguisher and where it is kept. If you don’t have one, get one. Determine the best ways to get out of your house quickly.

Printed materials on all these procedures and additional information are available from the local chapter.

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