Utah Scores 50 Percent on Readiness for Disease Outbreak

Utah Scores 50 Percent on Readiness for Disease Outbreak

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Utah scored 50 percent in its readiness for bioterrorism or a disease outbreak, third annual Trust for America's Health report.

Utah had achieved five of 10 goals.

Delaware, South Carolina and Virginia scored the highest, accomplishing eight of the 10 points. Alabama, Alaska, Iowa and New Hampshire were lowest, each with two points.

Utah health officials said the state is in much better shape than it was when terrorism rushed to the forefront of planning following the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.

"We've come a long way. We had come quite a ways in preparation for the Olympics, but we've done a lot of things we had not even done for the Olympics," said Dr. Dick Melton, deputy director of the Utah Health Department.

Last year, Utah got a six out of 10, and "had they used the same criteria, we would probably have had an eight this year," said Health Department spokesman Cody Craynor.

But categories were changed and the report doesn't measure the other "dozens of areas" in which the state is making preparations, he said.

"It's hard to use this as a report card for us, because I don't think it is an effective measure of what we've done. Better is how we respond to crisis," he said.

He cited the actions taken when a patient at Pioneer Valley Hospital was feared to have smallpox. The state lab determined within a couple of hours that it was severe chicken pox, Melton said. Without that capability, health officials would have had to assume it was smallpox, quarantine the patient and his contacts -- and even close the emergency department until they had results from the Centers for Disease Control.

"Those are true measures, and I think we do a lot better than we could have four years ago. We've made many strides," Craynor said.

Hospital-preparedness earned most of Utah's points. Utah has enough lab scientists to test for anthrax or plague in a suspected outbreak, and hospitals were deemed prepared to care for a surge of extra patients, including having needed extra medical equipment available, being able to immediately consult with infection-control experts and having a system to prioritize distribution of vaccines or antiviral medicines to hospital workers.

For instance, Utah was docked a point for not having an epidemiological surveillance system that is Web-based and able to communicate with the CDC. Utah does have the system running in a testing phase and is in the process of training people. Twenty-seven states received a point in that category.

In the report, Utah lacks bioterrorism response laboratories. Thirty-seven states were listed as having met that goal. Craynor said Utah has identified other facilities in the state that "could lend us space in an emergency" to meet those needs.

Also lacking is chemical terrorism response capability. Utah has a Level 2 lab, unlike the Level 1 lab that would be needed. There are about 10 of those in the country.

"To have that, we'd need significant increased federal funding. It's about equipment, not skills. We can now test for pretty much any industrial chemicals or pesticides," Craynor said.

The one hospital-related area for which Utah did not receive a point was "plans, incentives or provisions to encourage health-care workers to continue to come to work during a major infectious disease outbreak." Two states received points for that.

Nationally, the report gave the Strategic National Stockpile a C-plus, and federal readiness plans a C-minus. Federal coordination for an emergency received a D, while the smallpox vaccination initiative earned a D-minus.


On the Web:

Bioterrorism Report in Utah:

http://healthyamericans.org/reports/bioterror05/release.php?StateID UT

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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