In the arsenal of potential bioterror weapons, Q fever is not the most deadly agent, but it could be one of the most effective because of its ability spread easily through the air and cause widespread debilitating illness, according to a report in the April 20th issue of Bioterror Medical Alert.

Q fever, which typically occurs when the bacteria is passed from farm animals to humans, can cause severe flu-like symptoms, in many cases followed by pneumonia and hepatitis. In some cases, infection leads to a particularly hard-to-treat form of endocarditis.

Public health officials worry about the use of Q fever by bioterrorists because it is already known to have been weaponized by Russia and possibly Iraq. No licensed vaccine exists, though the U.S. army is rapidly developing one.

The report provides guidance for physicians on both diagnosis and treatment of Q fever. Other highlights of the April 20th issue of Bioterror Medical Alert include:

-- A group of emergency medical professionals has conceptualized a nationwide early warning system to detect chemical and biological terrorism. The system, dubbed the "Frontlines of Medicine Project," envisions a nationwide, real-time data collection, analysis, and reporting capability that can provide concurrent feedback to emergency physicians and other first responders at the point of care.

-- To head off a major catastrophe in the event of a smallpox attack, physicians must be aware of appropriate treatment and isolation procedures when encountering a smallpox patient. One of the world's leading smallpox experts offers his advice.

-- Viral encephalitides are getting increased attention as potential bioterror agents because they are easily weaponized. This clinical backgrounder, including diagnosis and treatment recommendations, will help physicians prepare in advance.

Bioterror Medical Alert is a new twice-monthly newsletter for doctors and other health professionals published by Atlanta-based National Health Information. The publication provides clinicians and public health officials with in-depth news and guidance on diagnosis, treatment, prevention, safety, and disaster preparedness.

NHI is making Bioterror Medical Alert available on a free trial basis. The four-issue trial can be requested by calling 800-597-6300, e-mailing a request along with a full physical mailing address to nhi@nhionline.net or order online at www.nhionline.net.