New Rochelle, NY, August 19, 2014—The United States is unprepared for a major bioterrorism attack and must do more to be ready to handle microbial menaces to the public such as smallpox, plague, and anthrax, according to D.A. Henderson, M.D., the doctor-scientist who led the effort that eradicated smallpox in the late 1970s.
Dr. Henderson, who is now at Johns Hopkins, made his remarks in an interview with Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News (GEN). “We still have a way to go before we would be really reasonably well prepared to deal with recognized biological threat agents,” he told GEN.
Dr. Henderson went on to point out that after September 11, politicians, physicians, and scientists began to consider emergency preparedness needs at a significantly higher level than was the case before. “The effort probably reached a peak about four or five years after 2001,” he continued. “But as time passed I would say complacency has set in.”
Using the case of a potential bioterror attack, he emphasized that state and local health authorities must already be in position to answer several key questions: These include: Are their personnel trained properly to handle an attack? Do they have people who know how to vaccinate? Have they drilled enough to prepare for such an event? Where are you going to put patients who fall victim to a bioterror agent? Do you have sections of a hospital that could be set aside for isolation?
During the GEN interview, Dr. Henderson also discussed the ongoing Ebola crisis in West Africa as well as the chance that a bioterror group might use the tools of molecular biology to create a synthetic form of the smallpox virus.