Two surveys conducted by Iowa organizations show the country has added many more health department employees to deal with an infectious disease outbreak since the 9-11 attacks. The Iowa Department of Public Health and Iowa State University conducted the surveys which check to see how many new people there are in the field of epidemiology — or those who deal with epidemics. Iowa’s top epidemiologist Patricia Quinlisk says the survey’s results showed mixed news. She says the number of people working in epidemiology has increased since 9-11 and the anthrax letter attacks, but she says they’ve found a lot of the people hired for the spots haven’t been formally trained. Quinlisk says states have done the best they can to fill the gaps. She says states have hired people who have some ability in the area, but she says they need a lot more training. Quinlisk says the ultimate is to have people in the positions that have a masters degree in epidemiology. She says the effort’s underway to upgrade the training of those who’ve stepped into the jobs — but says that’s easier said than done.She says a lot of these people are working, so they can’t take a year or two off to get their degree. She says it’s difficult for them to work a full-time job and work on their degree at the same time. Quinlisk says Iowa is a good example, as the state has hired six new epidemiology employees — but not all of them have degrees. So how big a danger does the lack of training pose? She says they would do their best to handle a large epidemic of SARS or smallpox, but she says they probably wouldn’t have every resource they needed to meet the challenge. Quinlisk says the state continues working toward getting the resources it needs to meet the challenge. The surveys showed the number of state health department epidemiology employees in infectious disease epidemiology and terrorism preparedness increased by 131 percent from 2001 to 2003.
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