Confronting the terror within
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has necessitated a crash course in agents and illnesses that haven't
been seen in the United States in decades, if ever. "Before
the anthrax outbreak, most physicians had very limited knowledge
of these things," says Farhad Melamed '90, an internal-medicine
specialist who represents the UCLA Primary Care Network on the task
force. Along with educating themselves, the network's providers
were encouraged to work with office staff who take patient phone
calls, and to educate their patients. "At the height of the
scare, people who had a runny nose and cough thought it was anthrax,"
Melamed says. In December, the task force produced a pamphlet for
UCLA physicians to distribute.
the institution as a whole, the aftermath of September 11 also has
led to serious thinking about ways to use computer technology to
identify unusual patterns in the cases seen by UCLA providers
statistical blips that might signify a bioterrorist agent is at
work. "Obviously if someone is diagnosed with a case of smallpox
or anthrax, a whole system of notification starts spinning up to
the highest levels of the federal public-health system," says
Pegues. "But there might be something lurking more insidiously
beneath the surface."
an enormous technological and logistic undertaking that local public-health
systems are also exploring. "With our size, and with the satellite
clinics that we have geographically distributed throughout Los Angeles,
we'd like to lead the effort in applying this kind of public-health
model," says Pegues.
responding to any disaster intentional or not the
ability of the key players on campus to communicate with each other,
and with the appropriate responders outside the university, is critical.
Operation Topoff, a federal exercise in Denver two years ago that
simulated a bioterrorist attack, pointed out the need for a system
in which members of the emergency-management and operations team
can be easily reached, notes Peter Katona, a UCLA infectious-disease
and bioterrorism expert on the task force.
working on ways to ensure that officials can reliably and quickly
contact each other, UCLA has paid close attention to other forms
of communication. Plans for accommodating a large media contingent
have been developed, and medical center spokespeople have been identified.
"Good communication includes presenting accurate information
in a timely and organized manner," says Katona. "If you
look disorganized, that can instill panic."