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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

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Bioterrorism course popular

Students who straggle into 408 Med Sciences seconds after the bell at noon Thursday may have a difficult time finding a seat. The one-credit class is expanding.

Three years ago, William Weidanz, UW professor and microbiologist, created a course about bioterrorism. Until recently, the class has been a speculation of types of bioterrorism possible, the process of dealing with these instances and whether or not it was likely to occur.

“We used to cover both sides of the issue,” Weidanz said. “There were people who argued that it would never cross a person’s mind to do such a thing. Now we know it could happen ? and is happening.”

The course, referred to as Bioterrorism and Emerging Infectious Disease Problems, is co-directed by Weidanz and volunteers from the State Lab of Hygiene. Just a few weeks ago, the course received approval to become a formal, two-credit class.

“We first began the course because we thought it would be of value to quite a few majors,” Weidanz said. “And the students have definitely shown interest.”

Predictably, the class is receiving much more interest as the ripples from Sept. 11 continue to spread.

“With the media giving this class so much attention, I feel the need to tell them, ‘Let’s get one thing straight … this is not a how-to class,'” said Robert D. Garrison of the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene.

With regular speakers from the FBI, military and a variety of media sources, the majority of the curriculum includes learning how bioterrorism events are dealt with at both a state and national level.

“We ask the speakers from the media what techniques they use to inform the public about issues like bio-terrorism without scaring them, and how they get the truth across,” Weindez said.

Before the anthrax scare began, students discussed issues such as smallpox, the pandemic flu, the Spanish flu and the threat of agricultural bio-terrorism. Now, more time is being spent on the study of anthrax.

“I’m a microbiologist, and I don’t even understand some of the reports given by the media,” Weindez said. “Some terminology is misused, such as anthrax being highly infectious. It’s not highly infectious. The doctors, nurses and other staff dealing with a victim can’t contract it.”

Students in the class, however, get the real deal regarding bioterrorism issues. With the help of State Hygiene Lab members, Weindez creates a unique learning environment for the students.

“We have great speakers, and we even take field trips … we actually get on those big yellow buses and ride across town to observe professionals and their training,” Weindez said.

On an upcoming trip to the Hazardous Materials Station in Madison, the students get to try on Mission Oriented Protective Posture Gear, or MOPP Gear. According to Garrison, the gear, which is worn in highly threatened environments, is hot, heavy and uncomfortable.

“It’s actually quite comical watching the students trying to maneuver around in the suits,” Weindez said. “It becomes a fun way to learn about a real and important aspect of microbiology.”

With Weindez and his team of coordinators from the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene devoted to the class, students interested in this type of field can now receive two credits of experience.

“I still can’t believe that so many people would volunteer their time to enhancing this course and get nothing in return,” Weindez said. “It’s simply amazing.”

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