News Briefs: Web site helps hospitals spot anthrax, smallpox

A new web site funded by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) in Rockville, MD, teaches hospital-based physicians and nurses how to diagnose and treat rare infections and exposures to bioterrorist agents such as anthrax and smallpox.

Designed by researchers in the Center for Disaster Preparedness at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) under a contract from AHRQ, the web site is the first of its kind to offer free continuing education credits in bioterrorism preparedness to clinicians. The site currently offers five on-line courses through the UAB Office of Continuing Medical Education for emergency department clinicians, including physicians, nurses, radiologists, pathologists, and infection control practitioners. Improvements to the site are planned. The address is

"This web site is an important new tool to help doctors and nurses identify rare infections that also could be potential bioterrorist threats," says AHRQ Director John M. Eisenberg, MD. "The evidence-based information presented on this web site will help front-line clinicians in our nation’s hospitals be better prepared in the event of further bioterrorism attacks."

Courses cover identification of six potential bioterrorist agents and commonly associated syndromes, including anthrax, smallpox, botulism, tularemia, viral hemorrhagic fever, and plague. There is no cost to take the courses, and each offers one hour of continuing education credit.

Courses include case-based scenarios and photos followed by multiple-choice questions and answers, according to Margaret Tresler, program manager for UAB’s Center for Disaster Preparedness. "If a wrong answer is selected, an explanation follows telling why the answer is incorrect. The interactive modules are designed to be easily accessible and user-friendly, keeping in mind that clinicians are busy."

Courses were developed by researchers and clinicians representing various fields, including emergency medicine, health administration, public health, nursing, and education.