Saturday, July 7, 2012

The biodefender that cries wolf / LA Times

David Willman does another deft job with the story of BioWatch, hopefully in time to influence the upcoming purchase of BioWatch's next generation of detectors.  None have yet worked as billed. 

The "detectors" are simply air samplers:  filters attached to vacuum tubes.  The filters have to be collected, then tested elsewhere using PCR devices specific to each microbial pathogen of concern.  The PCR (polymerase chain reaction) devices theoretically ought to be specific enough to  distinguish deadly germs from related, but benign relatives. 

The fact that they don't, suggests that the idea behind the system is flawed.  Why waste billions on the next gen device, when the theoretical underpinning of BioWatch is a failure?

Colorado has experienced multiple false alarms. Willman interviewed Colorado's former chief medical officer of the Department of Public Health:
"I can't find anyone in my peer group who believes in BioWatch," said Dr. Ned Calonge, chief medical officer for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment from 2002 to 2010.  "The only times it goes off, it's wrong. I just think it's a colossal waste of money.  It's a stupid program."
Previous reports on the BioWatch program by the Institute of Medicine, the DHS Inspector General and GAO couched their criticisms in understatement, but said the same things as Willman.

However, the BioWatch boondoggle does allow our leaders to claim they are protecting us:  and that may be enough to continue the program.

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