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Sat, Dec. 07

Smallpox drill set by county

Mohave County Department of Health and Social Services employees will participate in a smallpox drill Feb.

21 at the Lake Havasu Aquatics Center.

Bruce Lemming, program coordinator for bioterrorism defense and emergency response for the county health department, said Wednesday the exercise will be a first test of how health department personnel respond to victims of smallpox, a disease some terrorists have threatened to use against the United States.

Only health department staff members, certain dignitaries and reporters will be permitted to attend the exercise, which will begin at 10 a.m.

and last four to five hours, Lemming said.

"We've completed our pre- and post-event plan for smallpox and sent it to the state health department Jan.

28," Lemming said.

"We haven't heard back yet, so I don't know if they've accepted it or if we must make modifications to it."

The plan is more than 50 pages long.

Among other things, it explains Centers for Disease Control definitions for possible smallpox symptoms and has protocol information and health department contacts for emergency room employees at Kingman Regional Medical Center should smallpox infect the hospital, Lemming said.

A six-person rapid response team and three-person vaccination team have been named by the health department.

However, none of those team members has yet received the smallpox vaccination necessary for protection against the disease, and it is uncertain when they will get their inoculations.

"The state workers compensation board has not yet approved coverage for people to be vaccinated due to the liability risk (of complications), so nobody is going to be vaccinated until that is fixed and they have extended that to the first of March," Lemming said.

"But the county manager (Ron Walker) has assured us the county will cover our employees."

Members of the rapid response team include health department director Patty Mead, Bullhead City physician Cynthia Brennan, nursing manager Christy Bronston, epidemiologist Leslie Joyce, public health nurse Adeline Cowan and immunization coordinator Lisa Hatchel.

"If we have a suspected case of smallpox or other biological disease, the rapid response team would go to the scene," Lemming said.

"That could be to a person's house, but more probably to a hospital where the team would try to ascertain if the symptoms presented meet the criteria for smallpox."

Cowan is on the vaccination team with Jane Collins and Robyn Atkins, two other public health nurses.

"Any vaccination of the public would be in phase III (of the overall vaccination plan)," Lemming said.

"The last date I saw for that is sometime in 2004, but no funding for it has yet been set aside by Congress.

"The cost of the vaccination is about $80 and counties and states can't afford it."

The vaccination team would begin inoculations as part of the pre-event plan for dealing with smallpox.

But that can't occur until President George Bush authorizes vaccinations and makes stockpiles of vaccine available.

Even after vaccine is released, it will be inadvisable for anyone with a skin or immune system disease to be inoculated because of the risk of complications, Lemming said.

"I've seen figures ranging from 24 to 40 percent of people in those categories," he said.

"There are variables involved such as whether a person was actually exposed to smallpox, but we're still talking about an astronomical number of people to vaccinate."

The health department must be ready to vaccinate up to 170,000 county residents and another 60,000 visitors if a presidential order is issued, Lemming said.

However, recruitment of volunteers to help carry out the vaccination plan is ongoing.

Physicians and anyone else interested in volunteering may get information from the health department Web site at www.healthelinks.com or call 753-0774 for an application, Lemming said.

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