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Hospitals ready bioterrorism procedures

A medical center produces a new brochure, and others review their plans and stock up on medicines and supplies.

By CHASE SQUIRES

© St. Petersburg Times,
published October 10, 2001


The unthinkable is being thought about.

Proof that the world is changing in the wake of last month's terror attacks and anthrax in South Florida came Tuesday as Pasco Regional Medical Center produced a new brochure for public distribution: "Bioterrorism -- Community Guide for Rapid Detection and Treatment."

"We are a community hospital; we serve our community," hospital spokeswoman Susan Frimmel said. "We want to share the knowledge we have. We are here to answer questions and help people get a better understanding of this."

Diane Nizza, director of infection control services at the Dade City hospital, said the hospital has had a bioterrorism plan for years, but this past month has reviewed its procedures, taken stock of its quarantine facilities and either obtained or arranged to obtain medicines needed to care for victims of biological or chemical attacks.

Tuesday, the hospital held an in-house health fair, devoting one education station to recognizing symptoms of biological attacks.

The brochures were the idea of the hospital's management team, as a way to answer questions that may arise in the wake of the South Florida anthrax reports, Frimmel said.

"You can't go anywhere without hearing someone talking about it," she said.

The story is similar at other Pasco County hospitals.

At East Pasco Medical Center in Zephyrhills, spokesman Jerry Sterner said the medical staff is on the lookout for unusual patterns and is following "Code Yellow" emergency standards.

Last week Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point announced it will host a chemical terrorism conference for medical workers, and by Tuesday, the conference was full with 200 people registered.

It will hold another conference Nov. 10 to discuss bioterrorism.

Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point and North Bay Hospital have bioterrorism plans, spokespeople said, and Community Hospital in New Port Richey has a biohazard plan and is developing a bioterrorism plan.

The brochure produced at Dade City's hospital is available free to anyone.

It deals with anthrax, smallpox, botulism and pneumonic plague and describes symptoms and treatments.

"If you are unsure and are sick, get help," the brochure advises.

Frimmel and Nizza said that nurses are there to answer questions and that anyone with concerns should ask.

"No question is a stupid question," Frimmel said.

On the front lines in the new era of terrorism, the nursing staff of 150 have been trained to recognize elements of bioterror and how to protect themselves and others from contracting and spreading diseases, director of nursing Judy Hatfield said.

"It's something we're aware of every day," she said. "We're all thinking about it."

Bioterrorism agents

ANTHRAX: Contracted through the air, eating or drinking. Not passed person to person. Symptoms are flulike, include headache, fatigue, shortness of breath.

SMALLPOX: Contagious, contracted through the air. Symptoms are also flulike, with fever and blisters.

BOTULISM: Contracted through the air or by eating or drinking spores. Symptoms include nausea, diarrhea, drooping eyelids, difficulty swallowing.

PNEUMONIC PLAGUE: Contagious. Contracted by breathing contaminated air. Symptoms include coughing or coughing up blood, chest pain.

QUESTIONS: Brochures are available at Pasco Regional Medical Center, 13100 Fort King Road, Dade City, or call a nurse consulting line at Community Hospital and Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point, (727) 834-5630.

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