Testimony of Department of Health and Social Services Secretary, Tommy G. Thompson [open pdf - 24KB]
Bioterrorism presents unique challenges since it differs dramatically from other forms of terrorism and national emergencies. While explosions or chemical attacks cause immediate and visible casualties, an intentional release of a biological weapon would unfold over the course of days or weeks, culminating potentially in a major epidemic. Until sufficient numbers of people arrive in emergency rooms, doctors' offices and health clinics with similar illnesses, there may be no sign that a bioterrorist attack has taken place. Individuals with symptoms may be at considerable distance from the site of initial exposure, both in terms of onset of disease and geographic location. Moreover, the bioweapons most likely to be used are pathogens not routinely seen by health care providers. Medical providers generally are not familiar with the diagnosis and treatment of these disorders and may even fail initially to recognize symptoms. These scenarios underscore the importance of preparing for the possibility of bioterrorism. Our efforts include preparing the medical and public health response to mass casualty events, working to improve our infectious disease surveillance capabilities, managing and securing the National Pharmaceutical Stockpile and investing in necessary research and development to improve our capability to respond to an emergency. Because of the potential for widespread damage a bioterrorist attack could bring, I will focus on what I consider HHS's main priorities as the coordinator of medical assistance and the surveillance efforts CDC would undertake to identify the pathogen used.