Bioterrorism Readiness Questioned

Epidemiologist Sees Preparedness Lagging

A leading epidemiologist believes that the threat of bio-terrorism calls for a more health care-oriented body to defend against it than the Office of Homeland Security just established by President Bush.

Dr. Michael Osterholm tells Correspondent Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes that entrusting bio-terrorism preparedness "to homeland security…an area that has no expertise in going to be potentially troublesome."

Osterholm, a leading epidemiologist and professor at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, is a long-time advocate for increased sensitivity and preparedness against the threat from biological or chemical weapons. His sentiments are reflected in this exchange from last night's 60 Minutes :

In answer to a question about what advice he would offer Tom Ridge, the new Homeland security chief, Osterholm says, “ I'm just concerned that someone who isn't a public health professional understands what it means to do this disease surveillance, who understands what it means to make a diagnosis, who can relate to the medical community. If we falter there, we will see another several years of lack of preparedness.”

Osterholm appeared on 60 Minutes with other biological warfare experts in a report about America’s readiness for bioterrorism. Also appearing were Ambassador Richard Butler, who headed up the United Nations inspections of Iraq’s biological weapons program, Harvard molecular biologist Dr. Matthew Meselson, and Col. David Franz, former head of an Army laboratory researching ways to defend against biological weapons.

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