Wow, what a conference and exhibition! With 172 speakers and approximately 1,700 attendees, NEHRs 1998 Annual Educational Conference and Exhibition (AEC) exceeded all previous records for quality and attendance.
Throughout the conference, NEHA staff received spontaneous comments from many attendees that the educational sessions, the opening and closing keynote speeches, the networking luncheon, the special events and tours, and even the registration process were unsurpassed in excellence and value. We thank and congratulate each of the estimated 1,700 people who attended for contributing to - and reaping the re wards from - this special experience!
Credit for this successful AEC is due to the tremendous support NEHA received from contributing speakers, corporate sponsors, and enthusiastic attendees. It is also due to the candid feedback you, our members, gave us during the market research we conducted for this conference. Attendee Peggy J. Guichard-Watters from Phoenix, Arizona, stated on her post-AEC survey form, "Even though I can't get my children to listen to me, I know that NEHA listens to me. I found the speakers and information that I told NEHA I wanted at the 1998 AEC!"
As a direct result of NEHA's market research, certain elements of the AEC were changed. For instance, the blue-ribbon sessions (the most popular sessions, repeated at different times throughout the conference) that we instituted last year in Washington, D.C., were such a hit that we increased the number offered and made them a permanent feature of future conferences. We also offered more drinking-water sessions than ever before and, for the first time, packaged them as a separate, specialized track within the conference.
NEHA also made changes with respect to the exhibit hall. Exhibit hours were tailored so as not to conflict with the educational sessions, so that attendees had more opportunities to take advantage of this important part of the conference.
The program books distributed to attendees were improved as well, complete with prominent organizational tabs, more detailed descriptions of the sessions offered, and the names and addresses of speakers - they even came with canvas tote bags! We also offered more of NEHA's best-selling books than ever before at a significant discount and had them on display in the exhibit hall.
In addition, NEHA improved the networking luncheon by making it possible for more people to attend and by setting an easy-to-read sign on each table to indicate specific areas of expertise for discussion.
Finally, we reinstituted the popular closing keynote speech at the end of the AEC, giving attendees the opportunity to conclude the conference with a sense of pleasure and satisfaction about the entire week of events.
As the Managing Editor's editorial at the end of this month's Journal proclaims, those in attendance at this year's AEC experienced the reward and excitement of becoming a part of something larger than one's self. Through this report, even those who were unable to attend can experience the AEC and all that it brings to NEHA members.
The tremendous success of this year's AEC would not have been achieved without the generous support NEHA received from the following sponsors. We cannot thank these sponsors enough for their continued dedication to NEHA and to the profession of environmental health:
* American Academy of Sanitarians - general conference support;
* Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - educational program development;
* Educational Foundation of the National Restaurant Association - general conference support;
* Mars Air Door - general conference support;
* McKesson Water Products Company - general conference support;
* Mid-Atlantic Environmental Hygiene Resource Center - general conference support;
* National Center for Environmental Health - educational program development;
* National Drinking Water Clearinghouse - general conference support;
* National Restaurant Association - general conference support;
* NSF International - general conference support;
* Prism Integrated Pest Management - Splash II, Monday evening's special event;
* Taco Bell Corporation - President's Banquet;
* Underwriters Laboratories, Inc. - general conference support; and
* United States Public Health Service - educational program development.
Opening Keynote Address - Ebola Outbreak
This year's keynote address by Colonels Jerry and Nancy Jaax concluded with a standing ovation from an audience of approximately 750 people. The Jaaxes are a husband and wife team that became famous as a result of their 1989 experience containing an outbreak of the Ebola virus in Reston, Virginia. This incident became the basis of the best-selling book, The Hot Zone, and the movie, Outbreak. Their story was full of impressive slides, interesting information, and even humor (which was very well received, especially because of the contrast to the horror they described).
Ebola is a highly contagious hemorrhagic fever virus that kills by massive internal hemorrhage and is capable of jumping from one species to another. The Jaaxes specialize in hot (extremely infectious) viruses and high-hazard biological research at the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (U.S. AMRIID). Together, they described how the U.S. AMRIID team contained the Ebola virus after it broke out among some monkeys recently imported from the Philippines at a research laboratory in Reston, Virginia.
Jerry Jaax began the address with a question: "Why are we still discussing an outbreak that occurred almost 10 years ago?" The reason, he explained, is that the incident "has exceptional value to environmental health professionals as a case study ... because the containment plan that U.S. AMRIID employed worked!" Not one of the 42 U.S. AMRIID personnel at risk was infected, whereas four out of five (80 percent of the) personnel who were at risk before U.S. AMRIID became involved did become infected.
Jerry explained that the research U.S. AMRIID conducts is critical to national medical defense against threats such as biological warfare and terrorism. These threats are real and must be taken seriously, he stated. It is known that several countries (including China, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Russia, and Syria) are currently in violation of a multinational biological warfare treaty. One of the questions asked of the Jaaxes was whether they thought the Ebola virus would be "the big one", i.e., the virus of future biological attacks. Jerry's answer was emphatically no. He stated that because Ebola is not contagious until victims experience obvious symptoms, it would be virtually impossible to intentionally infect large numbers of people; the symptoms are so horrific that 1) any victim would seek medical help before he or she could infect many others, and 2) most people would instinctively avoid coming into close proximity with anyone showing symptoms as severe as those caused by Ebola. In other words, an Ebola outbreak among humans would most likely be quickly contained before it became widespread.
Despite the danger involved, it was evident that both of the Jaaxes love their jobs. Jerry joked that "one of the really cool things about my line of work is that I can go almost anywhere in the world and not worry about getting sick .... I've had over 35 different experimental vaccines." He also talked about how exciting it is to work in the hot zone (defined as a sealed area where it is mandatory to wear highly sophisticated personal protective equipment) wearing positive-pressure, HEPA-filtered "space suits" and studying deadly viruses and bacteria in negative-pressure glove boxes. He then showed the audience a slide of a small medical room in the hot zone at U.S. AMRIID called the "slammer." Two doctors (wearing space suits) were in the room, standing near an examination table, and one of them held a thermometer. Jerry humorously pointed out that "If you're unlucky enough to wind up in the "slammer" and you see these people hovering over you to take your temperature, be nervous!" The audience burst into laughter again when Jerry showed a slide of a man walking down a narrow hallway in the facility where the monkeys were infected, wearing nothing more than shorts and a T-shirt. As Jerry, wearing a space suit, passed the guy in the hallway, he thought to himself, "One of us here is obviously a fool."
On a more serious note, when Jerry was asked if he ever felt scared during the outbreak, he said no. "We were as excited as can be. We knew we were onto something big and important, and we viewed the incident as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn as much as possible about this deadly virus." Jerry explained that the tight military teamwork culture and chain of command had a lot to do with the success U.S. AMRIID had in containing the virus without any mistakes. He stressed that for emergency situations in which decisions must be made and implemented accurately and quickly, military systems are extremely useful.
When Nancy Jaax took the stage, she told the audience about her dramatic discovery of Ebola in a blood sample drawn from one of the monkeys. It all began with a report that a research laboratory in Reston, Virginia, was experiencing a dramatic increase in the number of monkey deaths (18 total). Nancy carefully collected blood and tissue samples from the dead monkeys and examined them under an electron microscope. That is when she discovered with great shock the unmistakable filo virus, a deadly African virus of which there are two types (Marburg and Ebola). It was later determined that, of the two possible types, the monkeys were infected with Ebola.
Nancy explained that Ebola presents with flulike symptoms, and is not usually diagnosed until the third or fourth stage of replication, which is when the victim begins to bleed out. It has a short incubation period of seven to 11 days. Nancy then...