After last year’s anthrax attacks, the term “bioterrorism” changed from a futuristic catch phrase into a national reality.

In an effort to help prepare Connecticut for the possibility of future bioterrorism, the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health is leading the development of a statewide training plan for medical and public health workers. The master training plan, to be completed in March 2003, will include a comprehensive guide to provide Connecticut’s health workers with the experience and information necessary in the case of a bioterrorism attack.

“Our goal is to put together a plan that we can implement for the long term,” said Kathi Traugh, a research associate in the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health.

The plan will focus on two types of workers –clinical professionals, including doctors and nurses, and public health workers in the state and local health departments, Project Director Marie Roberto said.

Yale will focus first on public health workers, and will later integrate the two target groups.

The plan is a project of the Connecticut Partnership for Public Health Workforce Development, which includes Yale, the University of Connecticut, Southern Connecticut State University, and a number of other public health associations. The partnership received a grant of $320,000 from the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to fund the first year of the project.

In creating the plan, Yale’s project group will evaluate existing resources and develop new training initiatives, said Elaine Anderson, director of special studies in the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health and the project’s principal investigator.

Anderson said the training programs will be voluntary for the health workers. Because of this, an important component of the plan will be the creation of informational databases that include the names of medical and public health workers and the level of training each one had received.

Although she said she thinks public health would eventually have prepared for bioterrorism, Anderson said last year’s terrorism and anthrax attacks sped up the process. The project leaders expect to use examples of emergencies that have already happened, including non-bioterrorism disasters, as a basis to work from when developing the training plan, Anderson said.

At the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, some training has already begun. Yale has paid the tuition for four public health officials to enroll in a new class entitled “Public Health Management of Disasters.”

David Cone, one of the class’ instructors, said the class devotes some time to the issue of bioterrorism, which could include anything from smallpox, to the Ebola virus, to influenza.

The public health workers fit right into the class, Cone said. He said he can hardly tell them apart from the graduate students.

Roberto said the project will do more than offer better response in the event of bioterrorism; it will also strengthen the public health infrastructure, which she calls “a major component of homeland security.”

While the United States focuses more on health care for individuals, Roberto said the public heath care system has been largely underfunded.

“Connecticut is not unlike the rest of the nation,” she said. “[There is] a lack of support for the public health infrastructure.”

Roberto said the plan is a step in the right direction.

“The public health workforce is extremely important, and their knowledge and skills need to be kept up to date,” Roberto said.