Sunday, April 13, 2003

Pleasant Ridge experts add SARS to workload

Catching up

By Peggy O'Farrell
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Capt. Boris Lushniak, Capt. Dawn Tharr and Capt. Bruce Bernard with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health are also working on the effects of terrorism.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
| ZOOM |
Dr. Bruce Bernard and his team are still looking at ways to protect American workers from the effects of terrorism. But now they've added a new project: SARS.

Bernard, medical section chief for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health's Hazard Evaluation and Technical Assistance Branch, or HETAB, said the team of public health experts has joined the battle against Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, a deadly respiratory illness reported in Asia, North America and Europe.

Protection guidelines

"We're trying to give guidance on what kind of personal protection people should wear if they're working with patients with SARS. And we're also trying to give guidance to airline flight crews, TSA personnel in the airports and clean-up crews and so forth," Bernard says.

The SARS outbreak is the latest in a series of high-profile hazards Bernard and his team have helped investigate. The team was also involved in helping protect workers at the World Trade Center site after Sept. 11 and during the later anthrax investigation.

In the U.S., 149 suspected SARS cases were under investigation as of last week.

Worldwide, the World Health Organization is investigating more than 2,600 suspected cases, including more than 100 deaths. Most of the cases have occurred in China.

HETAB is headquartered in Pleasant Ridge. The little-known - but busy - agency operates under the auspices of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

250 sites visited yearly

In an average year, investigators travel to 250 work sites to find out what's making American workers ill and injured. The technical term for their work is field epidemiology. Bernard prefers to call it "shoe-leather epidemiology."

He estimates that about a third of the team's workload relates to terrorism.

"We've been doing a lot of training around the country and teaching people to understand risks and how to be prepared in terms of these types of events, with a public health focus," he says.

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