Dangers from the microbial world

18 August 2011

Are we ready for the next biological threat?
Are we ready for the next biological threat?

Biological agents, anthrax and other suspicious powders will be under the microscope this Friday at a symposium dedicated to bio-threats.

The symposium, titled Are we ready for the next bio-threat - natural, accidental or deliberate?, is hosted by the Centre for Infectious Diseases and Microbiology Public Health at Westmead (CIDM Public Health) and the University of Sydney's Sydney Emerging Infections and Biosecurity Institute.

Professor Lyn Gilbert, CIDM Public Health director, said a diverse group of bio-security experts, including microbiologists and human and animal infectious disease specialists, will attend.

Topics to be addressed include: when to suspect and investigate a new bio-threat; how to recognise dangerous biological agents and handle them safely; and how to manage the diseases they cause to humans or animals and minimise the consequences.

Professor Gilbert, an authority on infectious diseases, says the symposium will discuss management strategies for potentially dangerous micro-organisms and their effects.

"Emerging infections and bioterrorism events are, by definition, rare and unexpected. Living organisms, such as a bacteria, fungi or viruses, are too small to be seen by the naked eye but can be identified in the laboratory," she said.

"Doctors or veterinarians who see the first people or animals affected, and the microbiologists who analyse early specimens, probably won't recognise them at first, but the longer the delay the greater the potential risks - to victims, their contacts, laboratory staff handling specimens and, ultimately, the wider community."

"With the emergence of new diseases and viruses such as the Hendra virus it is important we continue to assess our strategies for managing these microscopic villains," Professor Gilbert commented.

The two-day conference will also include a workshop for experienced laboratory workers on how to recognise potential bioterrorism agents and bio-security in a PC4 laboratory.

PC4 laboratories are used to analyse and investigate agents considered highly toxic or contagious.

Event details

What: Are we ready for the next bio-threat - natural, accidental or deliberate?

When: Friday 19 and Saturday 20 August

Where: Westmead Hospital Education and Conference Centre

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