Global Health Nexus, Summer 2003

Bioterrorism Preparedness Update: NYU Dentistry Hosts Army Training Course on Chemical, Biological, and Nuclear Agent Threats

From April 26 through April 28, 2003, the NYU College of Dentistry, in association with the Associated Medical Schools of New York, the Medical Society of New York State, the New York State Academic Dental Centers, and the New York City Department of Health, hosted a training course, “The Medical Management of Chemical, Biological, and Nuclear Agent Threats,” taught by experts from the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute for Chemical Defense. Nearly 100 people completed the course, and many more expressed interest or stopped by over the three-day period. The course, which was free, was open to faculty and students from medical and dental institutions across the city and state. Faculty received CME/CDE credits, and students received a certificate of participation upon completion of the course.

The event marked the first time that dentists have participated in such a comprehensive program in New York City. The goal was to give participants the opportunity to educate and prepare themselves to respond appropriately in the event of a catastrophic public health crisis. Training included classroom lectures and demonstrations, as well as hands-on demonstrations of triage and decontamination of people exposed to chemical and biological agents.

Dean Alfano said, “NYU as well as other medical and dental centers in the New York City area have been working together on this particular issue of terrorism preparedness, and we are pleased that the Army agreed to produce this course for medical and dental faculty and students in the NYC/NYS area. As 9/11 demonstrated, it is important, as health care providers, that we educate ourselves for potential catastrophic events, such as a chemical attack.”

Dr. Dianne Rekow, Director of Translational Research at the NYU College of Dentistry and Chairperson of NYU Dentistry’s Bioterrorism and Catastrophe Response Task Force, who helped organize the course, said, “Experts from disparate disciplines, such as academic and clinical dentistry, medicine and public health, emergency management, fire departments, and the military, had the opportunity to engage in discussions that we hope will set the stage for future collaboration. The outcomes of such collaboration should further strengthen New York City’s ability to respond to threats and reaffirm its innovation and leadership in catastrophe preparedness principles and policy.”

Recent months have seen a great deal of activity surrounding the issue of a role for dentistry in bioterrorism preparedness. Here are some highlights:

  • The ADEA annual meeting included a symposium on dentistry and terrorism preparedness. The featured speaker at the annual meeting, New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Antonia C. Novello, subsequently invited Dean Alfano to meet with her in Albany to present his ideas on this issue.
  • The ADA and HHS cosponsored a major conference on bioterrorism and dentistry’s response at which Dean Alfano and Dr. Rekow were featured speakers.
  • Dean Alfano made a presentation to Dr. Thomas Frieden, NYC’s Health Commissioner, about using dentists’ offices as inoculation sites or places to dispense medications in the event of an emergency, thereby greatly expanding access to care for the general public and sparing physicians and other health professionals to do other things in times of crisis. His presentation led to the inclusion of dentists in the NYC emergency plan for mass inoculations for smallpox. The plan calls for about 2,000 dentists to receive certification to deliver the vaccine, along with other health care providers. This action makes NYC the first city to officially “sanction” dentists to do these inoculations.
  • Under Dr. Rekow’s direction, NYU Dentistry is implementing the creation of educational modules related to terrorism preparedness and response as part of the overall curriculum. This initiative has garnered support from state and national dental organizations and academic dental centers.
  • The University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey Dental School (UMDNJ) and NYU Dentistry have independently developed catastrophe preparedness plans, including a “shelter in place” component. The two schools will get together soon to compare notes.
  • Dr. Rekow was part of an all-university group that traveled to Washington, D.C., to brief the New York Congressional delegation on activities in progress at the NYU Center for Catastrophe Preparedness.