In Maryland, Bioweapons for Your Wallet

HAGERSTOWN, Md. -- Maryland's public health agency has a gift for people who don't know an anthrax infection from a sarin gas attack.

It's a guide to six biological, chemical and radiological weapons printed on a folded sheet of paper that can be carried in your wallet.

The bioterrorism preparedness cards from the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene also contain tips on planning for, and responding to, such an attack. One side of the sheet has spaces for writing in emergency telephone numbers and any special medical needs of the card carrier.

Dr. Diane Matuszak, director of the agency's Community Health Administration, said the state paid New York-based Instep Marketing $7,100 for 10,000 of the fold-up cards, known as Z-Cards for the patented, tri-fold process that sandwiches the information between two stiff, colorful paper cards. They became available last week at local public health offices. The same information can be printed from the agency's World Wide Web site,

Matuszak said Tuesday that the cards are handier than the agency's standard-size brochures on biological warfare agents.

"I think that a lot of times we distribute things like that and unless we make it easy for people to have with them, then they don't have the information when they really need it," she said.

The cards feature information about anthrax, botulism, smallpox, plague, sarin and dirty bombs - explosive devices that disperse low-level radioactive material. Matuszak said the scientific information and tips came from the federal Centers for Disease Control and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Matuszak said the cards are modeled on similar documents distributed by the state of Virginia. "The states are sharing what they have all the time," she said.

The cards contain Internet addresses for Maryland's public health agency, the CDC and the Maryland Emergency Management Agency - but no telephone numbers. Matuszak said county health offices can place or stamp their phone numbers in a blank space just above the photos of Gov. Robert Ehrlich and Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, whose names are printed on both sides of the sheet.

The prominent placement of the politicians' images conforms with standardized "branding elements" that the Ehrlich administration aims to place on all state publications and Web sites, said Edward Blakely, director of the Governor's Office of Strategic Communications.

Washington County Health Department spokesman Roderick Macrae said his agency will distribute the cards at a Citizens Emergency Preparedness Day event Saturday at the Valley Mall in Hagerstown.

He said he had received at least 10 requests for the cards after The (Hagerstown) Herald-Mail published a story about them Tuesday. "We've gotten some fair amount of interest," Macrae said.

(c) 2005 Associated Press