January 2004 EMS Wire Service

Hot news from the wire.

Waning Interest Shelves Pox Plan

Less than a year after it was launched, the U.S. government's much-ballyhooed smallpox vaccination plan is "dead in the water," according to USA Today.

"The fact is, it's ceased," the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Ray Strikas told the newspaper for its October 16 article.

The pace of vaccinations dropped significantly after reports last April of heart problems associated with the vaccine. States had expected to administer 450,000 doses to healthcare workers who would serve on response teams in the event of a smallpox outbreak, but at press time, fewer than 40,000 had been vaccinated.

Walter Orenstein, director of the CDC's National Immunization Program, said the program will be folded into a larger effort to prepare medical personnel to respond to a variety of biological weapons.

-USA Today

Symptoms Key to Detecting Anthrax

Key symptoms can help medical providers distinguish infection with inhaled anthrax from more common respiratory conditions like the flu, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

The AHRQ helped fund a study in which researchers at Cornell's Weill Medical College compared features of 28 inhalation anthrax cases (including 11 from the attacks of 2001) with more than 4,000 cases of common viral respiratory tract infections such as the flu. While symptoms such as fever and cough did not reliably differentiate between anthrax and flu/flulike illnesses, others did, most notably neurologic problems like dizziness and confusion; gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea and vomiting; and shortness of breath. All were more common in patients with inhalation anthrax.

The study's results are being used to create the first evidence-based prehospital screening protocol for anthrax attacks. For more, see the September 2, 2003 Annals of Internal Medicine.

-Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality

Docs Warn of Medicare Fee Fallout

More Medicare patients will seek care in emergency departments unless Congress changes the formula that determines Medicare payments to physicians, the American College of Emergency Physicians warned in a statement released in October.

Under the recently revised Medicare payment rule, payments to physicians will be cut by 4.5% beginning January 1.

In response to these cuts, "Physicians will become increasingly unable and unwilling to see additional Medicare patients," ACEP President Dr. J. Brian Hancock said. "Vital resources are being drained from emergency departments, which are already at the breaking point."

The group urged Congress to increase reimbursements to physicians under the schedule by at least 1.5% a year for the next two years.

-American College of Emergency Physicians

House, Senate Pass PSOB Extension

The public safety officer death benefit (PSOB) should soon be extended to providers who die of strokes or heart attacks while on duty following passage of the Hometown Heroes Survivor Benefits Act by both the Senate and House of Representatives.

Under the program, survivors of police, fire and EMS providers killed on the job receive a one-time financial benefit. The Act, which still must be signed into law by the president, would extend that benefit by presuming that any on-duty stroke or heart attack death is work-related. Previously, survivors had to prove a direct relationship between actions on the job and subsequent medical episodes to receive the benefit.

"Congressman [Bob] Etheridge [the bill's original House sponsor] and Senator [Pat] Leahy [who introduced a companion bill in the Senate] deserve a lot of credit for their tireless efforts to enact this measure," Congressional Fire Services Institute Executive Director Bill Webb said of the passage. "These [and other] members of Congress have demonstrated the bipartisan spirit of the Congressional Fire Services Caucus in working together to ensure passage of this important measure."

-Congressional Fire Services Institute

Action Items to Further EMS Research

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