Iowa University Braces for Attacks of Bioterrorism

By By U Wire

By U Wire

IOWA CITY, Iowa?Iowa state officials say acts of bioterrorism will be forthcoming, and they are preparing for the inevitable.

The University of Iowa Hygienic Laboratory is testing envelopes for anthrax after several hoaxes in the United States involving the disease, which originates in animals, said Mary Gilchrist, the director of the lab.

?This is not a matter of if, but when,? she said, adding that her facility is prepared to test for all agents that would most likely be used in a bioterrorist attack.

The prospects of such actions against the United States have some local citizens concerned, and the lab has received several phone calls regarding the threat of bioterrorism since last month?s terrorist attacks.

Gilchrist said the lab has spent the past three years securing the capabilities needed to respond to bioterrorism. However, she said, the probability of bioterrorism affecting numerous people is minimal because it is difficult to distribute biological agents over large areas.

The risk of being affected by bioterrorism ranks between being in a car accident and being struck by lightning, Gilchrist said. ?And these are risks we accept every day.?

But some Iowa stores are reporting increased fear among the public, resulting in high sales of protective gear, such as gas masks.

William Wynkoop, the owner of B & J Military Surplus in Westchester, Iowa, said he sold all 12 gas masks at his store the day of the Sept. 11 terrorists attacks. He is still receiving several calls daily from customers in search of gas masks.

?I could sell a hundred of them right now if I had them,? he said.

Gas masks might not be a valuable precautionary measure because they are unable to shield users from all chemicals, Gilchrist said.

?It is amazing that we can’t get people to wear seat belts, but they are going to go out and buy gas masks,? she said.

Gilchrist spent four days in Washington, D.C., last week, urging public-health officials to effectively distribute funds to combat bioterrorism as part of a national program responding to last month?s attacks.

Prior to the terrorist attacks and during the Gulf War, Gilchrist said $800 million?1 percent of the government?s allocations?was distributed to the public-health community. The amount has since risen to $1.6 billion, 5 percent of the government?s allocations, as the threat of bioterrorism lingers.