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Bioterrorism Threats FAQ

Below are answers to frequently received questions from the public related to preparation for terrorist threats, and other public health emergencies.


Have threats been received regarding the use of biological agents?

As of today no credible threats or intelligence of attacks directed at Wisconsin have been received by law enforcement or public health authorities.


What do I do if I receive or witness a threat or attack?

Dial 9-1-1.  Appropriate officials, including public health authorities, will be notified.


Who would manage a suspected biological or chemical threat/attack in Milwaukee?

Police, fire, paramedics and rescue personnel have been trained to recognize signs of deliberate or accidental release of toxic or biological hazards. Municipal and county agencies, including public health, hazardous materials teams, and emergency medical services, have joined forces to provide expert assistance to our communities in an event of this type. This system will be triggered as needed by police, fire or health care personnel. For general information please call the City of Milwaukee Health Department 414-286-3606.


How would we know if an outbreak occurred?

Doctors, nurses and laboratories legally must report communicable illnesses or outbreaks to local health departments. In Milwaukee County, all local departments have joined together in SurvNet to speed recognition of outbreaks and coordinate response. Public health workers are also actively tracking illness rates in various settings. Countywide findings are analyzed dailyClinical laboratories have been alerted to forward specimens from patients with unusual findings to a specially equipped network of laboratories.

If an outbreak were detected through SurvNet, the Milwaukee Health Department would notify the general public through the media.

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How can I distinguish rumors and myths from real information?

Rumors and false stories are common. Please do not pass along verbal, written or email stories or rumors unless you have confirmed them. If you hear information you are not sure about please contact your local law enforcement or local public health office (check the blue pages of your phone directory) or see http://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/communicable/diseasepages/Bioterrorism.htm. Also, see the CDC webpage for information about hoaxes and rumors.


Who do I call if I suspect an unusual outbreak of illness or environmental contamination?

Contact your local public health department. These are listed in the blue (Government) pages of your telephone directory or at http://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/communicable/diseasepages/Bioterrorism.htm. In the City of Milwaukee call 414-286-3606.           

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How can I reduce my risk of disease?

The likelihood of exposure to an intentional biological attack in any particular community in the United States is extremely small. Most biological threat agents do not spread from person to person. It is difficult to spread a disease or toxin to a large population. Even so, local authorities are preparing for the possibility of an outbreak here, or to assist other communities.

You remain far more likely to die of natural infections than those spread by terrorists. You can reduce your risk of disease by being up-to-date on routine immunizations. These recommendations may be found at http://city.milwaukee.gov/immunizations or by calling the Milwaukee Health Department immunization office at 414-286-8034.  You can also reduce risks by careful hand washing, food preparation  (see http://www.foodsafety.gov/keep/basics/separate/index.html), and avoiding sexually-transmitted infections (see  http://city.milwaukee.gov/STD-HIV-AIDS).

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How should I get ready for an emergency?

Common sense tips to get ready for any type of emergency can be obtained from the MHD's "Emergency Preparedness and Response" web page.

In certain types of emergencies when toxic substances might be released (including accidental spills), "shelter in place" or evacuation precautions may be recommended. You can pre-prepare a kit of food, drink, medications, baby and pet needs, a radio, towels, plastic bags and tape, flashlights, and family documents to be ready for an emergency.

If you are told to "shelter in place" you would follow these guidelines (from the Milwaukee County Sheriff, 2001):

  • Get family and pets inside.
  • Close doors, windows, fireplace damper.
  • Turn off air conditioning, fans, heating units, and other vents.
  • Go to an upper room with the fewest windows or doors.
  • Take your Shelter-in-Place kit with you.
  • Wet towels and jam them in the crack under doors.
  • Use plastic (trash bags are good) to cover all windows, doors, exhaust fans, vents, electrical outlets and heat/air registers.
  • Use tape to seal the edges of the plastic.
  • Close blinds, shades, drapes and stay away from windows if told an explosion if possible.
  • If fumes seep into room, breathe through wet cloths held to nose and mouth.
  • Remain in the room and listen to your Emergency Alert System (EAS) station (WTMJ 620 AM) on your radio or television until you are told all is safe or you are told to evacuate.

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Should I buy special equipment?

Gas masks and similar supplies that might be found at "army-navy" stores are sold for fun, not protection. The Milwaukee Water Works was specifically designed to eliminate infectious agents, using several steps or barriers to remove or inactivate agents. However, having a few bottles of water for use in emergencies is always handy. There is no reason to use special equipment or practices unless you hear specific instructions by radio or television in an emergency.


What about vaccines for anthrax or smallpox?

Smallpox and anthrax vaccines are not routinely available, and are not licensed for general use for several reasons.  Side effects can be significant and protection is not permanent, so it is not clear that benefit outweighs risk for the general public. Therefore vaccine is only recommended for those at highest immediate risk, such as military personnel, and for use in actual emergencies.

In certain types of emergencies when toxic substances might be released (including accidental spills), "shelter in place" or evacuation precautions may be recommended. You can pre-prepare a kit of food, drink, medications, baby and pet needs, a radio, towels, plastic bags and tape, flashlights, and family documents to be ready for an emergency.

If you are told to "shelter in place" you would follow these guidelines (from the Milwaukee County Sheriff, 2001):

  • Get family and pets inside.
  • Close doors, windows, fireplace damper.
  • Turn off air conditioning, fans, heating units, and other vents.
  • Go to an upper room with the fewest windows or doors.
  • Take your Shelter-in-Place kit with you.
  • Wet towels and jam them in the crack under doors.
  • Use plastic (trash bags are good) to cover all windows, doors, exhaust fans, vents, electrical outlets and heat/air registers.
  • Use tape to seal the edges of the plastic.
  • Close blinds, shades, drapes and stay away from windows if told an explosion if possible.
  • If fumes seep into room, breathe through wet cloths held to nose and mouth.
  • Remain in the room and listen to your Emergency Alert System (EAS) station (WTMJ 620 AM) on your radio or television until you are told all is safe or you are told to evacuate.

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Should I buy special equipment?

Gas masks and similar supplies that might be found at "army-navy" stores are sold for fun, not protection. The Milwaukee Water Works was specifically designed to eliminate infectious agents, using several steps or barriers to remove or inactivate agents. However, having a few bottles of water for use in emergencies is always handy. There is no reason to use special equipment or practices unless you hear specific instructions by radio or television in an emergency.


What about vaccines for anthrax or smallpox?

Smallpox and anthrax vaccines are not routinely available, and are not licensed for general use for several reasons.  Side effects can be significant and protection is not permanent, so it is not clear that benefit outweighs risk for the general public. Therefore vaccine is only recommended for those at highest immediate risk, such as military personnel, and for use in actual emergencies.


 

Specific U.S. Public Health Service's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommendations related to smallpox vaccine are available at http://www.emergency.cdc.gov/agent/smallpox/vaccination/facts.asp

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Should I keep special antibiotics in my home?

We do not recommend storing antibiotics for emergencies. Misuse of antibiotics breeds germs that are resistant to the drugs.  Antibiotics also become stale, and can turn poisonous. Different antibiotics are needed for different diseases, in pregnancy, for children, for people with allergies or chronic health problems.              

Public health authorities plan to make medications available in emergencies by cooperating with hospitals, pharmacies and local and national cache systems. Private dispensing or hoarding of antibiotics could reduce the effectiveness of an organized community response system.           


Who can I call in any poisoning emergency?

The Children's Hospital of Wisconsin Poison Control Center provides 24 hour assistance with real or suspected poisoning at (800) 222-1222 or (800) 815-8855.

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What if I am having emotional problems dealing with the recent attacks or other issues?

The first stop should always be your own physician or clinic. The following hotlines can also offer assistance:

  • Community Information Line (referral service) 414-773-0211
  • Mental Health Counseling (Waukesha) 262-367-5501
  • Milwaukee County Crisis Unit 414-257-7222
  • Milwaukee Public Schools Support Hotline 414-345-7233
  • Rogers Memorial Hospital (referral or assessment) 800-767-4411
  • Women's Center Crisis Hotline (24 Hour) 414-671-6140

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