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Gov't to test PDA network for bioattack response

The U.S. government announced that it will begin testing a system using handheld personal digital assistants (PDAs) for transmitting urgent information about biological agents to clinicians. The three-month pilot test of the PDA network is designed to gauge the best ways for federal officials to communicate effectively with front-line clinicians in the event of a bioterrorist attack. The project will evaluate how and when clinicians download this urgent information and whether they find it useful to receive it via their PDAs. “This important new project will allow us to harness the power of technology to communicate with many of the doctors, nurses, and other clinicians who will be called on to diagnose and treat patients quickly in the event of a bioterrorist attack,” HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson said.

Double dose of bioterrorism news

THOMPSON SAYS FOOD SUPPLY VULNERABLE TO ATTACK
The number of U.S. food inspectors has risen over the last year, but Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson said the nation is still vulnerable to an attack on its food supply. It was clear even before Sept. 11 that the Food and Drug Administration’s inspection system had big holes, the Associated Press reports, with 150 inspectors together examining less than one percent of the nation’s food. After last fall, Congress opened the purse strings enough to hire 750 additional inspectors, and new technology has made some inspections faster. But Thompson said danger remains. “I still believe that is the area we are subject to a terrorist attack in the future and one that could cause problems.” In perhaps the most shocking part of Thompson’s coments, he blamed the previously low number of inspectors on a vindictive Congress that punished the agency for former FDA Commissioner David Kessler’s efforts to regulate the tobacco industry.

Meanwhile…
DUST-SIZED CHIPS TO COMBAT BIOTERRORISM
Silicon chips the size of dust particles that can quickly detect biological and chemical agents have been developed by University of California, San Diego scientists. As reported by HealthScoutNews, the versatile chips can identify substances that can be dissolved in drinking water or sprayed into the air during a bioterrorist attack. “The idea is that you can have something that’s as small as a piece of dust with some intelligence built into it, so that it could be inconspicuously stuck to paint on a wall or to the side of a truck or dispersed into a cloud of gas,” UCSD researcher Michael Sailor said. Each chip is barcoded, and can be read using a laser detector to see what if any reaction has occurred. “When the dust recognizes what kinds of chemicals or biological agents are present, that information can be read … to tell us if the cloud that’s coming toward us is filled with anthrax bacteria or if the tank of drinking water into which we’ve sprinkled the dust is toxic,” Sailor said.

Smallpox immunity lasts longer than thought

A new study suggests smallpox vaccine immunity may last far longer than expected. Scientists had believed that the vaccine generally only conferred protection from the deadly virus for about a decade. But a study released this week found evidence that people may be covered for 35 years or more, meaning many Americans could retain some level of immunity. The study looked at blood samples from laboratory workers who had been immunized in the last five years and those who had been vaccinated up to 35 years earlier.