CDC issues bioterrorism-response guidebook for coroners

Jun 11, 2004 (CIDRAP News) – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has published a guidebook to help medical examiners and coroners detect and respond to bioterrorism.

"Medical examiners and coroners (ME/Cs) are essential public health partners for terrorism preparedness and response," the CDC says in its summary of the 27-page booklet. "Medicolegal autopsies are essential for making organism-specific diagnoses in deaths caused by biologic terrorism."

Besides providing detailed guidance for medical examiners and coroners, the report is designed to help other public health officials understand the role of medical examiners in bioterrorism preparedness and response.

The document includes a description of the pathologic findings and diagnostic specimens and tests for each of the Category A (high-risk) bioterrorism agents: those that cause smallpox, anthrax, plague, tularemia, botulism, and viral hemorrhagic fevers.

The guidebook includes information designed to help medical examiners and coroners:

  • Cooperate with public health laboratories in the Laboratory Response Network
  • Minimize risk of infection when conducting autopsies
  • Understand their role in surveillance for bioterrorism
  • Properly collect and document data from death investigations
  • Understand jurisdictional, evidentiary, and operational issues
  • Collect reimbursement for bioterrorism-related expenses and locate possible funding sources
  • Communicate with laboratories, public health departments, emergency-operations centers, law enforcement, and other agencies

The report also includes a table linking pathologic syndromes seen on autopsy with potential terrorism-related illnesses, plus numerous photos of tissue specimens from victims of diseases such as anthrax, plague, tularemia, smallpox, and Ebola hemorrhagic fever.

CDC. Medical examiners, coroners, and biologic terrorism: a guidebook for surveillance and case management. MMWR Recommendations and Reports 2004;53(RR08):1-27 [Full text]

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