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"Hot Zone" author highlights OSU infectious diseases symposium

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

A writer whose non-fictional and fictional works about viral and bacterial epidemics helped spur the federal government in the 1990s to assess the nation’s bioterrorism preparedness will highlight the inaugural Sitlington Infectious Diseases Symposium at Oklahoma State University this week.Dr. Richard Preston will present “The Demon in the Freezer: Case Studies in Biological Terrorism,” the symposium’s keynote speech, at 9 a.m., Thursday, April 21 at OSU’s Wes Watkins Center. The author of “The Hot Zone” and “The Cobra Event” kicks off one-and-a-half days of presentations by epidemiologists, microbiologists, virologists, veterinarians and other doctors, researchers and health professionals representing agencies such as the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and schools of medicine and veterinary medicine throughout the region. Preston, the winner of the American Institute of Physics Award and the National Magazine Award, became interested in the Ebola virus and emerging infectious diseases sometime around 1992. HisNew Yorker article, “Crisis in the Hot Zone,” became the book “The Hot Zone,” and inspired the movie “Outbreak.” He then wrote “The Cobra Event,” a fact-based thriller about a fictional bioterror event in New York City. President Clinton reportedly was so alarmed by the novel that he convened a national security meeting to discuss its plausibility. According to some reports, “The Cobra Event” also upset government intelligence officials who eschewed public discussion of bioterrorism. When anthrax-laced envelopes began to show up in mailrooms in 2001, however, “The Cobra Event,” was called prescient. “The Demon in the Freezer,” the last installment of Preston’s “Dark Trilogy,” was published in 2002. It was non-fictional and detailed the 2001 anthrax incidents as well as the threat of smallpox, considered the most dangerous bioweapon on Earth due to its contagiousness. who has written five books to date, is the only non-physician to receive the Center for Disease Control’s Champion of Prevention Award for public health.


Following Preston’s keynote, Dr. Judith Hewitt from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases will describe its role in supporting biodefense. Hewitt is the program officer for the research contract valued at $40 million NIAID awarded last fall to OSU’s Center for Veterinary Health Sciences. Dr. Tracee Treadwell, chief of the Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response program within the National Center for Infectious Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, will also speak Thursday morning. A 1994 graduate of OSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine, she is an international expert on surveillance and bioterrorism preparedness and response. Treadwell was deployed to New York City immediately after 9/11 to serve as lead for the Department of Health and Human Services’ Epidemiology and Surveillance team. She also served as CDC team lead during its investigation of new cases during the 2001 anthrax attacks.            Dr. David Walker from DHHS Region VI, the Western Regional Center of Excellence in Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases, and Drs. Nancy and Gerald Jaax will give the Thursday afternoon presentations after participating in the luncheon panel discussion with the morning speakers. The Jaaxes, real-life characters in “The Hot Zone” and veterinary faculty at Kansas State University, will discuss veterinarians’ role in biodefense research. Various biodefense projects at institutions in the region will be described by researchers during the symposium’s Friday morning sessions. Those represented include the Oklahoma Department of Health, OSU, the OU Health Sciences Center, the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston and Texas A&M University. The Sitlington Symposium, themed “Biodefense, Bioterrorism and Emerging Infectious Diseases,” was the brainchild of Dr. Bill Barrow, Sitlington Chair in Infectious Diseases in the Department of Veterinary Pathobiology at OSU’s Center for Veterinary Health Sciences. It serves to provide an overview of biodefense issues as they relate to bioterrorism and emerging infectious diseases and introduce research and health care officials to key personnel and institutions involved in biodefense activities in DHHS Region VI. The symposium also seeks to foster cooperative and productive associations and collaborative research within Region VI which includes Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana and New Mexico.  The Sitlington Infectious Diseases Symposium is a presentation of OSU’s Center for Veterinary Health Sciences and is sponsored by Nomadics and Beckman Coulter. Also providing support are the Southwest Center for Public Health Preparedness, VWR International and OKAHEC.
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