Background National preparedness against emerging infections and biological weapons hinges upon clinician recognition of and knowledge about bioweapon threats.
Objective We set out to assess the bioterrorism knowledge base of second-year medical students and compare it to dental students, pharmacy students, physician assistant students, family medicine residences, emergency medicine residences, attending physicians, and a control of elementary school teachers.
Methods A 20-question, 25-data point survey was randomly distributed to the aforementioned cohorts. IRB approval and informed consent were obtained.
Discussion Practicing physicians scored higher than other cohorts; as expected those with prior WMD training outperformed those without. One notable exception was the question of whether it was safe to administer smallpox vaccine in the presence of sunburn; lay people correctly felt comfortable receiving a vaccine; physicians felt uncomfortable administering vaccine. The control group outperformed other cohorts on 16% of questions; of these most of the underlying topics had been in the media at the time of the survey, implying that those outside the health care arena gain their knowledge from the popular press, suggesting the importance of accurate reporting.
Conclusion The threat of bioterrorism and emerging infectious diseases persists; additional education needs to be made available to those in health professions. This education should be started not only as continuing medical education for current physicians but as dedicated curricula for those still in school. As education efforts rise, more research needs to be conducted to check the effectiveness of said education.
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