Even though President George Bush told all of us to go back to our normal lives after September 11, there probably haven't been too many days you didn't think about what the terrorists might do next. We may have just started thinking about terrorism after the attack on America, a little more than a year ago, but the government's been preparing through the Centers for Disease Control for the last four years.
Days after the attacks, President Bush declared war on terrorism, saying, "I've directed the full resources of our intelligence and law enforcement communities to find those responsible and bring them to justice. We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them."
But that battle has been fought since 1998, when the CDC started its Bioterrorism Preparedness & Response Program. A large part of the war on terrorism is developing strategies.
Dr. Charles Schable of the Bioterrorism Preparedness & Response Program said, "We decided to ramp up the lab aspects for bioterrorism and radiological and chemical attacks. I think people realized that there were nations that were capable of working with agents that certainly weren't our friends, and we needed to start paying more attention to those issues.
We all know CDC workers are exposed to all kinds of chemicals and infectious diseases/but before they protect us, they protect themselves. Even when they are in a controlled environment, like the lab, working with infectious diseases, CDC workers must wear protective gear. And when they come out, they must all go through this shower to make sure they aren't bringing any of those substances out of the lab.
We saw them fully suited up during the many anthrax scares. More than 2,000 CDC employees took part in the largest rapid mobilization of CDC staff for a single public health issue in the agency's history. Dr. Schable was among them.
"It was tremendous, exhilarating," he said, "and you had the feeling there were people out there doing nasty things and we wished we could catch them."
But their work wouldn't have been a success, if it weren't for the work of local and state health departments working together.
"All of them have been trained at the CDC on Category A agents," Schable explained. "Those that are most likely to cause problems--anthrax, plague, etc. It's an internetwork; everybody talks to everybody else. We use the same protocol, we're all aware of what's going on."
That training came in handy when runners marked their routes with flour throughout downtown Savannah a few weeks after September 11. Our emergency crews quickly responded and quickly determined it wasn't the poisonous powder we had all feared it was.
Even though the CDC is based in Atlanta, they're helping communities around the world just like ours. And though we all worry about the West Nile, according to the CDC, diseases caused by tobacco use and obesity are now and will continue to be the number one killers in the US.