LOS ANGELES - Smallpox - a disease that was declared eradicated by the World Health Assembly more than 20 years ago has been reinstated to the list of reportable diseases by the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services (DHS). This new reporting requirement, also being considered by the state of California, is part of enhanced efforts to obtain early identification of possible bioterrorism threats to the United States.
"Although the chance of smallpox becoming a health threat again is extremely low, the required reporting of the disease is being reinstated to acquaint many physicians and laboratory specialists to its clinical manifestations and management," said Jonathan E. Fielding, M.D., M.P.H., Director of Public Health and County Health Officer. "If physicians suspect this disease immediate notification to the health department would help minimize its spread and lives would be saved."
DHS is one of three U.S. metropolitan health departments to receive a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for bioterrorism surveillance and preparedness. Each state health department also received a grant for the same purpose. The most critical step responding to a bioterrorist threat is early recognition that something "unusual" is taking place. Because of this, the County health department reinstated the reporting of one of the microorganisms the CDC deemed most likely to be used in a terrorist attack.
"We are improving our surveillance, developing investigation tools and forming response plans to ensure we are prepared to handle any threats to public health and safety," said Carol Peterson, M.D., M.P.H., a medical epidemiologist and the grant's co-principal investigator.
Other microorganisms listed by the CDC as most likely to be used in a terrorist act include anthrax and plague. These are already reportable diseases because they have not been eradicated and can infect humans.
"The County's Public Health Laboratory has undertaken special renovations and trained microbiologists to work with specimens considered suspicious for bioterrorist microorganisms," said Sydney Harvey, Ph.D., Laboratory Director and the grant's co-principal investigator.
Specimens that cannot be tested here will be sent to the CDC. Should public health officials determine a situation is "unusual," they will alert the medical community and begin communications with the State Department of Health Services, CDC, FBI and other authorities.
Public Health is committed to protecting and improving the health of the nearly 10 million residents of Los Angeles County. Through a variety of programs, community partnerships and services, Public Health oversees environmental health, disease control and community and family health. Public Health comprises more than 3,800 employees and has an annual budget exceeding $465 million.