Public Health Officials Reassure Public

Public health officials in Rhode Island were trying to allay concerns about bio-terrorism in the light of new Anthrax discoveries in Washington D.C. and New York City, as a local congressman called for clear protocols for first responders in cases of suspected bio-terrorism.

Congressman Patrick Kennedy requested the protocols, after his office was evacuated Monday with staff members being taken to Rhode Island Hospital and Memorial Hospital in Pawtucket. The precautionary move followed the discovery of Anthrax on a letter in the office of Senate Majority Leader Thomas Daschle. A long time Kennedy staff member reported developing a rash days after opening a suspicious letter from India.

?It was felt that her symptoms were incompatible with any sort of bio-weapon or any sort of a biological agent. She was evaluated and sent home and not sent home on any sort of therapy,? said Dr. Leonard Mermel of Rhode Island Hospital.

A swab was taken to test the woman for Anthrax. A follow up visit also was scheduled as a precaution.

?I myself have not been tested, nor do I believe there is any cause for concern. I think one very real risk that we are facing right now in this country is immobilizing our health care system by reacting to potential scares,? said Kennedy.

Kennedy said watching the reaction to the report at his office made it clear to him that fire departments, police departments, and emergency room personnel require clearer directions about how to respond to such cases.

Public health officials stressed that they are treating all reports of suspicious substances seriously, while still trying to reassure the public that there is little risk. The Department of Health is still awaiting results of tests on a dozen suspicious substances found in Rhode Island in recent days. The only test completed so far indicated a substance found at the University of Rhode Island did not contain Anthrax.

?Most of these things are very very difficult to get. So, we hope that after we get through this period of time, common sense will begin to come back into play and that we'll have a different response in Rhode Island as well as the rest of the country,? said Health Department Associate Director Robert Marshal. Marshal said the flu presents a greater public health threat.