Nov. 2, 2001
Volume XXXIV, No. 44



UTHSC faculty participate in bioterrorism seminar

Photo of biopanel Dr. Fernando Guerra, director of the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District, explains the public health response to bioterrorism. The UTHSC broadcast the discussion live to more than a dozen sites across South Texas.

Information and preparation — San Antonio's health, military and community leaders say those are the two best weapons against bioterrorism.

The panel of nine experts spoke before a packed lecture hall Oct. 22. Almost 400 local doctors, students and concerned citizens turned out for the free seminar on germ warfare and community preparedness. The Health Science Center broadcast the event to more than a dozen remote sites throughout South Texas.

"You may think the preparation for a terrorist attack is just beginning, but this panel has been working on this for at least the past four or five years," said Dr. Ronald M. Stewart, associate professor in the department of surgery and organizer of the event. "Our aim is to present the facts as we see them. These agents are not mysteries. In the end, I think you will feel more confident."

The panel provided a scientific overview of anthrax, smallpox and bubonic plague in an attempt to assure the public that San Antonio is prepared to battle this new breed of warfare.

"We can deal with this as a community, as a state and as a local government," said Mike Miller, assistant fire chief for the San Antonio Fire Department. "Rest assured, we will do what we can to get the job done."

Miller said his department began training for terrorist attacks in 1997. While his men and women are prepared, they're also swamped with hazardous materials calls. The SAFD is now receiving about 150 a week — up from about 15 a month before the Sept. 11 attacks.

But promises of prepared response teams and an ample supply of antibiotics weren't enough to quash some concerns. A U.S. postal worker, who asked not to be identified, said she's worried about bringing the disease home to her family.

"What can postal workers do to protect themselves?" she asked in an interview outside the lecture hall. "We handle so many letters and breathe so much paper dust. How likely is it that spores [of anthrax] can be transported? Am I breathing it in?"

Dr. Patterson, professor in the department of medicine, along with Dr. Charles Bauer, professor of surgery, and Dr. Ladona Farinacci, assistant professor of research in surgery, represented the Health Science Center on the panel. Dr. Stewart hosted the event. Other panelists included Dr. Don Morse, San Antonio Metropolitan Health District; Col. Rasa Silenas, USAF; Dr. Fernando Guerra, San Antonio Metropolitan Health District; Mike Miller, San Antonio Fire Department; and Leni Kirkman, University Health System.