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Health officials beef up efforts after rise in terror alert

From Jeanne Meserve
CNN Washington Bureau

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Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge says security precautions have been triggered at federal, state and local levels. (February 7)
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Interactive: Terror warning system 

• Interactive: Threatcon levels
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• Special Report: War on Terror

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have increased staffing at their command centers, officials said, after Friday's increase in the national terrorism alert level to "orange," which indicates a "high risk of terrorist attacks."

HHS officials said the department held a briefing with its state and city partners and has been in touch with medical response teams.

Counterterrorism officials are worried that a future attack could involve a chemical, biological or radiological weapon. (Bio-chem weapons)

In Washington, the District of Columbia Health Department sent a letter Friday urging hospitals, doctors and other health care providers to be aware of the possibility of chemical or radiological attacks.

The letter also warned providers to be on the lookout for the symptoms of exposure to ricin, botulinum and a broad range of chemical agents, and urged them to review their protocols for treating such exposures.

They were also cautioned to make sure that security measures were up to standards.

The state of Virginia also sent letters warning doctors and other health care providers about the possibility of terror attacks.

"Of possible concern could be attacks involving chemicals, such as ricin, cyanide, or organophosphates and/or radiological dispersal devices (RDD), and dirty bombs," the letter said.

"The Virginia Department of Health requests that all health care personnel in the private or public sector be especially alert to any unusual disease patterns, including those that could be due to chemical, radiological or biological agents used intentionally," it added.

As most states responded Friday afternoon to the raising of the threat level by the Homeland Security Council, many mentioned that their health systems had been put on alert, as well.

New York Gov. George Pataki said his state's Department of Health notified nearly every health care provider and physician in the state to step up their monitoring of infectious diseases and other trends.

Texas has also ordered its health care institutions to increase security.

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