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FOR RELEASE: March 29, 2001
CONTACT: Dick Gunn
405/271-5601

Bioterrorism Response Coordinator Named

The Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) announced today that Robert Louis Petrone, Ph.D., MPH, PA-C, was named the Bioterrorism Response Coordinator for the OSDH Acute Disease Services. The position and program are funded by a federal grant that provides for coordinating bioterrorism public health efforts of surveillance, response to incidents, and coordination with other services and organizations. The federal grant of $371,000 for four years was awarded to the OSDH by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Bioterrorism is defined as the use of infectious agents like anthrax, plague, and smallpox in acts of terrorism. Petrone will coordinate educational efforts for medical professionals and partner agencies. He will educate physicians about bioterrorism threats, how to recognize and report unusual syndromes that may be related to bioterrorism activity, and will consult with infectious disease specialists regarding the latest methods to diagnose and treat specific bioterrorism agents. The bioterrorism program will develop specific statewide response plans and coordinate all OSDH emergency responses and training efforts.

“There has been increased public interest in bioterrorism over the last four to five years and we believe there is a need for more preparation and coordination at the federal and state levels. We saw this as an opportunity to help make the public aware of the issues and who to call. The CDC grant also provides a starting point for us to build a state-of-the-art bioterrorism response system,” said Michael Crutcher, M.D., MPH, Disease and Prevention Services Interim Director and State Epidemiologist. “We are fortunate to have someone like Dr. Petrone to lead these efforts. His education and experience will bring a new level of expertise to this field.”

Petrone has served as Director of Services and Research, Pulmonary Disease & Critical Care Section, Medical Service at the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Oklahoma City since 1990. Prior to that, he was a clinical physician assistant in the Urology Section at the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center from 1986 to 1990. He has held various positions at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center (OUHSC) in Oklahoma City, including adjunct instructor, clinical instructor, research associate and epidemiology investigator. Petrone also has concurrent military experience as a colonel in the Oklahoma Army National Guard and is deputy commander of the state medical detachment.

Petrone has a bachelor of science degree from the Regents College of the University of New York, a master's degree in public health specializing in occupational medicine and industrial hygiene, and a Ph.D. in environmental epidemiology, both from the OUHSC.

Current partners in the bioterrorism system include working groups from the State Weapons of Mass Destruction, Oklahoma City and Tulsa; and local, state and federal agencies including CDC, the U.S. Department of Justice Office for State and Local Domestic Preparedness Support, and the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety. Coordination will involve working with first responders from fire, police and emergency services, as well as the Oklahoma National Guard, and looking at ways to standardize communications and disease surveillance systems.

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