Friday, December 13, 2002

N.Ky. to hire coordinator in case of biological attack

By Chris Mayhew
The Cincinnati Enquirer

EDGEWOOD - Northern Kentucky is advertising for its first epidemiologist.

The "Counter-Bioterrorist Administrator" will coordinate the region's response to any biological attack with a Hamilton County General Health District emergency response specialist who started work this week.

With 300,000 people in Northern Kentucky and about 1.6 million in the rest of Greater Cincinnati, these disease-tracking professionals have an awesome task.

Epidemiologists are the first to identify a disease as it occurs in a population and then track its progress and coordinate response to outbreaks or full-blown epidemics.

Hamilton County has had an epidemiologist on staff for almost five years. For the past three years, the position has been held by Dr. Cynthia Yund.

Hamilton County used a federal public health infrastructure grant received after Sept. 11 to hire a public health emergency response coordinator.

Michael Ottaway was on his third day on the job as the emergency response coordinator Thursday. Out of $420,000 in grant money, about 10 percent went to fund his position.

Mr. Ottaway said in addition to training, his job will be divided into two phases: pre-planning, and event. During any public health emergency it will be Mr. Ottaway's job to help create a command structure.

"In an event phase, the job is to make sure things happen like having places to put people; getting them to the hospital; and working with police, fire and emergency service workers," Mr. Ottaway said.

"If something does happen, we'll be reaching out to the entire Tristate," Mr. Ottaway said. "Part of the overall goal is to plan for the worst. Right now, the president is focusing on smallpox, and that's why our efforts are being directed there."

Northern Kentucky's professional will earn $47,000 to $71,000 a year. He or she will prepare for, monitor and react to any bioterrorism or other disease event and provide training and expertise for area agencies. The regional health district hopes to have the person in place by January.

Boone, Campbell, Carroll, Kenton, Gallatin, Grant, Owen and Pendleton counties will fall under the Northern Kentucky epidemiologist's jurisdiction.

Before Sept. 11, there were only two or three epidemiologists working for local health departments in Kentucky. About 55 health departments serve the state's 120 counties.

Since Sept. 11, the Madison County Health Department alone has hired two epidemiologists, and at least a half-dozen other health departments are interviewing candidates, said Dr. Steve Englender of the State Department for Public Health.

Madison County is the site of the Bluegrass Army Depot near Richmond, which houses one of the nation's only remaining stores of the highly toxic VX gas. The chemical weapons store has been listed as one potential terrorist target.

One of the Madison County epidemiologists specializes in chemical agents, and the other in infectious diseases.


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