Louisiana is one of only six states to achieve the highest preparedness status from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in demonstrating that health care workers are prepared to distribute vaccines and antidotes in the event of an emergency.

This and other factors led to the state achieving six out 10 key indicators that assess a state’s ability to respond to a bio-threat, according to a nationwide survey of America’s bioterrorism readiness.

“Ready Or Not? Protecting the Public’s Health in the Age of Bioterrorism, --- 2004,” published through the nonprofit group Trust for America’s Health, examined each state’s performance in 10 categories designed to rate improvements along with areas that would be vulnerable in the event of a massive health emergency.

In the 2003 report, Louisiana was one of 13 states to receive a five out of 10. This year, the state slightly raised its ranking. No state received a perfect score; however, Florida and North Carolina were the highest-ranking states, with nine out of 10. Alaska and Massachusetts scored lowest, with three out of 10 indicators.

The report, which looks at areas such as public health funding in each state, drills and other practice exercises state officials have conducted, ability of public health laboratories in each state to test mass samples and states’ abilities to exercise quarantine procedures, concluded that Louisiana and the rest of the nation must continue upgrading bioterrorism programs to be prepared for an attack.

This year, the report also looked at whether states have a response plan for pandemic flu outbreak. Pandemic flu is not an act of terrorism, but would be a severe health emergency that would require planning and preparation similar to what would be needed in the event of a biothreat.

Although Louisiana did not receive marks for having a pandemic flu plan, such a plan has been in place for the last eight years. The plan is regularly evaluated and modified to address the most current issues within the state. Currently, the plan is being incorporated into the state’s all-hazards disaster plan, and is more than 90 percent complete.

“We are pleased to note we are more prepared today to address a health threat than we were prior to Sept. 11 or even since last year, and we plan to continue that progress,” said State Health Officer Dr. Jimmy Guidry. “We are glad this year’s report recognizes most of the strides we have made to increase our response capabilities. The dedicated staff in our Office of Public Health knew and understood our weaknesses prior to this report, and we have been and remain committed to improving them.”

The state also was recognized because it did not cut its public health funding for bioterrorism and other health-related incidents this year, as many states did; has implemented an electronic disease surveillance system to speed reporting and tracking of illnesses; has a statewide quarantine plan in place; and regularly conducts drills and training exercises to increase response preparedness should an emergency occur.

The report noted that significant improvements are needed to make Louisiana’s Department of Health and Hospitals, Office of Public Health laboratory ready to conduct massive tests should an anthrax or other disease outbreak happen.