Bush seeks to expand surveillance for bioterrorism

Jan 29, 2004 (CIDRAP News) – The Bush administration today proposed a $274 million program to improve the nation's alertness for bioterrorism by measures such as increasing environmental monitoring, analyzing health data, and inspecting crops and livestock.

A key part of the program would be an expansion of the BioWatch program, which currently involves air sampling and testing for harmful microbes in about 30 cities, according to the announcement by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

"This initiative will enable us to build upon the success of the BioWatch Porgram, an important public health tool, which has been operating in more than 30 cities across the nation since 2003," said DHS Secretary Tom Ridge.

The "Bio-Surveillance Program Initiative" envisions DHS spending $129 million to expand and improve the BioWatch program and set up a system to integrate a broad range of surveillance data from across the government, officials said. In addition, HHS would spend $135 million to strengthen laboratories, monitor human health, and enhance food surveillance, while the Department of Agriculture would get $10 million to improve food and animal surveillance.

HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson said, "This initiative will better integrate information to give us the tools we need to protect American families."

Under the plan, DHS's Science and Technology Division would get a $65 million increase in funds for environmental monitoring, bringing the total spending for that purpose to $118 million, the announcement said. "A key component of this initiative will be an expansion and deployment of the next generation of technologies related to the BioWatch Program," the statement said.

The announcement offered no details on what the expansion would involve, and DHS officials could not immediately be reached for comment. In the BioWatch program, filters are collected daily from air-monitoring stations in large cities and are tested for pathogens such as Francisella tularensis, which causes tularemia and is considered a potential biological weapon.

The initiative also calls for $11 million to help DHS develop a system to gather data on human health, animals, plants, and the food supply and to integrate the data with environmental and intelligence information, officials said. The aim is to provide for "better informed decision making and a quicker federal, state and local response."

The proposed $135 million for HHS would include $130 million for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and $5 million for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The CDC would use the money for automated analysis of electronic health data and to expand the capabilities of public health, clinical, and commercial labs to provide timely and accurate disease diagnoses, the announcement said. In addition, the CDC would increase the number of quarantine stations at international airports and other ports of entry from eight to as many as 25.

The FDA would use its allocation to coordinate existing food surveillance programs, communicate with public health and environmental officials, and integrate its efforts with those of DHS, officials said.

The USDA's $10 million share would be used to improve food and animal surveillance by the Food Safety and Inspection Service and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

See also:

Jan 29 HHS-DHS news release

Feb 26, 2003, CIDRAP News story on the BioWatch program

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