Global Health Nexus, Winter 2003

NYU Dentistry Creates Bioterrorism and Catastrophe Response Task Force

Dean Alfano has announced the creation of an NYU Dentistry Bioterrorism and Catastrophe Response Task Force to develop strategies and a structure for a coordinated, collaborative response effort to deal with the threat of terrorism, including bioterrorism, and other catastrophes. 

The Bioterrorism and Catastrophe Response Task Force is chaired by Dr. Dianne Rekow, Director of Translational Research and Professor of Basic Science and Craniofacial Biology and of Orthodontics. “In organizing an on-site Bioterrorism and Catastrophe Response Task Force,” says Dr. Rekow, “Dean Alfano has declared NYU Dentistry’s determination to play a leadership role within a national terrorism preparedness and response network.”

Task Force initiatives include:

Complementing and Enhancing Medical and Public Health Potential in Surge Demand 
(led by Dr. Walter Psoter, Assistant Professor of Epidemiology & Health Promotion). NYU Dentistry has organized a Surge Demand Needs Evaluation Team (SDNET). The SDNET will draw upon and integrate the expertise within both NYU Dentistry and New York University-at-large, as well as within the New York City Department of Health, the military, and organized dentistry. Its objective is to help plan, develop, demonstrate, and evaluate appropriate roles for dental professionals and their auxiliaries to function as part of teams for triage, emergency care, information distribution to the public and the profession, outbreak investigation, syndromic surveillance, diagnosis and, potentially, conversion of medical and dental offices for delivery of care to some of the afflicted.

Early Identification of Catastrophic Events 
(led by Dr. Rekow). Because most “invisible” biological, chemical, and/or radiological attacks present first with flu-like symptoms, many can proliferate and affect large segments of the population extremely quickly before they are recognized as biowarfare agents. This initiative focuses on partnering with a dental management company to construct a template for data gathering and response. The objective is to develop a surveillance system for detecting “invisible” attacks by capitalizing on routine tracking of cancellations of dental appointments. With information regarding the geographical area in which people are canceling dental appointments in large numbers, conclusions can be drawn and preparations made for a potentially large-scale emergency.

Detection of Pathogens 
(led by Dr. Page Caufield, Professor of Cariology and Operative Dentistry and Head of the Division of Diagnostics, Infectious Disease, and Health Promotion). The most sensitive and rapid methodology for testing the presence of etiologic agents of terrorist-related diseases is real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), which is similar to DNA fingerprinting, but on a molecular basis. This initiative seeks to expand access and use of RT-PCR to reduce delays in testing, confusion about which laboratory is doing tests, and where citizens, public health officials, local law enforcement, and the FBI would be able to obtain test results. One approach with great potential for assessing environmental contamination of the community involves investigating the capabilities of the public health system to routinely screen for pathogens as well as for evidence of explosives and radiation by analyzing samples taken by means of a unique sampling method that is in patent development.

Distribution of Response Supplies 
(led by Dean Alfano and Henry Schein, Inc.). While stockpiles of government-controlled materials exist, there is no coordinated plan for how, when, what, and where to deliver them. Henry Schein, Inc., has a robust system in place that could meet this need, and, in collaboration with the federal government, can develop a strategic plan that includes shipment of general supplies in anticipation of an event, followed by event-specific supplies in continuing deliveries. NYU Dentistry aspires to work with Henry Schein, Inc., on this initiative.

Preparedness Plan for NYU Dentistry 
(led by Dr. David Glotzer, Clinical Associate Professor of Cariology and Operative Dentistry). Just as every hospital has an Emergency Response Plan that delineates the responsibilities and procedures that will be invoked at the time of the plan’s activation, NYU Dentistry is designing a plan that will allow us to quickly determine how a disaster will impact the way the College operates.The plan’s priorities include ensuring the safety of students, faculty, and staff; fostering preparedness training in detection, diagnosis, and response to biological, radiological, and chemical terrorism; mitigating physical damage to the building and utilities; facilitating proper communication with the University and civilian authorities, and recovery and restoration of academic operations.