Agent Detection - Biological

Biological detection is somewhat limited due to the lack of initial physical clues such as a plume, explosion or cloud and the likely delayed onset of symptoms for many of the agents. While devices and detection equipment exists it is costly and remains mainly in non-civilian organizations.

Less sophisticated tickets such as the sensitive membrane antigen rapid test (SMART) are a type of litmus paper detection method which a suspected agent are placed on however false positives can occur with perfumes, cologne, after shave and other powder substances making their utility questionable.

Despite the challenges of biological agent detection, analysis of normal seasonal data of everyday community health related activities may signal the sentinel event of a biological incident.

Surveillance programs need to address the following issues.

  1. What information needs to be collected as well as what data sources should be utilized.
  2. Who is responsible for data collection and how it will be collected.

Some sample entry points of information may include:

  • Emergency department volume including chief complaints.
  • Traditional healthcare venues (physician offices/clinics).
  • Increased volume at veterinary clinics.
  • Increased purchases of over the counter medications.
  • Increased pharmacy utilization.
  • EMS/911 data.
  • Absenteeism at schools, daycare and work.



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