Former South Dakota senator shining light on potential biological threats

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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - A former South Dakota senator is spearheading an effort to prevent disaster. Senator Tom Daschle (D-SD) says the threat of large-scale biological incidents is looming large.

“This is real. This is going to happen,” said Daschle.

It has happened to Daschle. In 2001 one of his employees opened a letter containing anthrax sent to his office. More than two dozen people in his office tested positive for the infectious disease. Daschle says in an age of globalization threats of biological outbreaks are only growing more dangerous.

“We’ve lost more people to pandemics and intentional attacks over the last hundred years than we have in all the wars put together. But we’ve spent one half of an aircraft carrier on addressing those challenges,” said Daschle.

He is taking part in the Blue Ribbon Study Panel on biodefense. He and other public servants are discussing the need to be proactive, holding the panel on the 100th anniversary of the Spanish Influenza outbreak that left an estimated 50 million people dead.

“We’ve had Ebola and SARS and we’ve been able to contain them so far, but our luck could run out,” said Daschle.

He and the other panelists are stressing that more resources need to be devoted to these threats to anticipate the deadly incidents, rather than playing the roles of reactionaries.

“Let’s spend some money up front, invest in better defenses, prevention,” said former Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT).

Lieberman says the best way forward is public-private partnerships. He says getting pharmacies involved and having them prepared for outbreak is an important first step.

“If there’s particularly an infectious disease epidemic, people are going to turn to the big chain store pharmacies. And they got to be ready,” said Lieberman.

The senators say they hope the panel helps foster more public-private cooperation.