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Medical Preparation in Salt Lake City an Olympian Task

Three million bandages and 7,800 tongue depressors ready and waiting

TUESDAY, Feb. 5, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- Providing medical care for the 100,000 daily spectators and 3,500 athletes who are converging on Salt Lake City this week for the Olympic Winter Games is itself an Olympian task.

However, the health team in charge of medical services for the Games says it can handle the job.

Intermountain Health Care has already stocked 3 million bandages, 70,000 aspirin, 170,136 antacid tablets, 29,812 doses of liquid antacid, 175 defibrillators, 10,016 rolls of medical tape, 647 thumb splints, 1,558 ankle braces, 1,314 arm slings, 7,800 tongue depressors, 177 tweezers, and 36,882 pairs of examination gloves.

Curiously missing from this list are Cipro tablets and smallpox vaccine, which have become a central part of the medical lexicon since Sept. 11.

Never fear, though. Salt Lake City has an advantage the site selectors probably never thought of when they picked the venue: The city is a mere 85 miles from Dugway Proving Ground, a U.S. military facility used to test biological, chemical and nuclear weapons.

"Because of our proximity to Dugway, all our facilities have been prepared for a long time to deal with biohazard material," says Douglas R. Fonnesbeck, the Olympic liaison for Intermountain, which is a nonprofit health-care system for Utah and Idaho residents and is based in Salt Lake City.

The group's Olympic medical team has undergone an intense seminar held by Dugway staff members, he explains.

Local hospitals also have ample supplies of Cipro, Fonnesbeck adds, so there's no need to stock the antibiotic on site.

There are a few other changes as well, which the average athlete or spectator probably won't notice as they enjoy the competitions. Ambulances, which originally were not going to be on site, are now going to be parked and waiting next to the various venues.

"We're making sure they're there with a cruiser standing by for back up," says Fonnesbeck.

Five air ambulances will be located off site, but still close enough to the action so they can take care of life-threatening injuries.

About 300 medical personnel, including 150 ski patrol members, will be mingling with the crowds and looking for signs of trouble.

"We'll have a lot of trained medical people out and about, more than in the past. They will be walking the venues so they'll be in close contact with anything that happens," says Fonnesbeck. "Every field of play is covered, even the parking lot."

There will also be 35 medical clinics -- 16 for athletes and 19 for spectators -- scattered about the Olympic site. Officials expect the clinics will get about 10,000 visits from spectators and athletes.

Medical personnel will be on the lookout for stress fractures (a big problem with figure skaters), head and leg injuries on the downhill ski slopes, and shoulder and face cuts from high-speed-skates, among other things.

Doctors will also be stationed near the giant slalom course, which is one of the fastest in the world and has a brutal turn at the end.

Inteermountain has also received dossiers on all the athletes involved, and what medications they may be taking. Athletes taking asthma drugs better have a note from their doctor.

There's also the fact that February is flu season. Most of the athletes will be living in dormitory settings for the duration of the competition, a perfect setting for contagion.

"The living style for these athletes is totally different than what they're used to," says Dr. Mahlon Bradley, U.S. Olympic team physician for figure skating and curling. "That does increase the risk of both flu and meningococcus."

All the U.S. athletes have had their flu shots, and doctors will be on the alert for any cases so they can be treated immediately with new drugs.

What to Do: For up-to-the-minute information on the 2002 Winter Olympics, visit the official site. Meanwhile, the American College of Sports Medicine has more on keeping fit and healthy.

SOURCES: Interviews with Douglas R. Fonnesbeck, Olympic liaison, Intermountain Health Care, Salt Lake City; Mahlon Bradley, M.D., Olympic team physician, U.S. figure skating and curling; Intermountain Health Care news release
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