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Bioterrorism Grants Add Staff to Local Health Department

Tracking Communicable Diseases

The Fairfax County Health Department has big plans for its incoming epidemiologist and bioterrorism coordinator. Although the positions are being paid for through a combination of multi-million-dollar grants to the Virginia Department of Health (VDH), the local jurisdiction has already decided how it is going to keep the new people busy.

"We're planning on incorporating them into our communicable diseases program," said Michelle Bachus, communicable diseases coordinator with the Fairfax County Health Department. "All our efforts will be centrally located, and we hope this will provide a benefit overall."

THE VIRGINIA DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH received two federal grants totaling $23.75 million and $1.8 million in state funds in August to hire an army of epidemiologists and bioterrorism coordinators, which will be dispatched to each of the 35 health districts, including the city of Alexandria and the counties of Fairfax, Arlington and Loudoun. In all, about 130 newly created bioterrorism-related jobs are being filled.

"We received a $23 million bioterrorism grant to enable us to respond to community emergencies," said Trina Lee, public relations coordinator, Office of Epidemiology for the VDH. "There are six components: leadership planning, epidemiology, bioterrorism coordinators, informational technology, information to the general public, education and training for public and private health-care providers."

Lee said the addition of epidemiologists and bioterrorism coordinators will improve the locality's response to a disease outbreak, whether it be a result of another terrorist attack or something such as the West Nile virus, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS or sexually transmitted diseases.

"They will help with statistical analysis and identifying trends," Bachus said. "They are concerned with disease investigation. With something like anthrax, you see the illness in the community. With other diseases, you don't know something is out there."

THE STATE is still in the process of hiring the epidemiologists, whom Bachus expects to be in Fairfax County within the next four to six weeks. The county already has staff doing epidemiology work. However, because of the lack of resources, an investigation may take longer to begin.

The bioterrorism coordinator, who will be responsible for coordinating emergency responses, is being funded by the state but has been made a county position, which has recently been advertised.

"These folks will really pull up the level of work we've been doing," Bachus said.