The Des Moines Register reports:

Iowa has made strong improvements in its preparations for possible bioterror attacks or other public-health crises, a national group says.

For the past three years, the Trust for America’s Health rated Iowa’s preparations at the bottom nationally. But the group’s annual report, released Tuesday, now says Iowa is better prepared than most other states.

Overall, the group said the United States still has “major gaps” in its ability to respond to such threats as avian flu and germs spread by terrorists. The group also raised concerns about possible budget cuts to public-health efforts.

“The economic crisis could result in a serious rollback of the progress we’ve made since Sept. 11, 2001, and Hurricane Katrina to better prepare the nation for emergencies,” the group’s executive director, Jeff Levi, said in a news release.

Rebecca Curtiss, the Iowa Department of Public Health administrator who oversees such efforts, said she was pleased by the report’s findings.

But she said work remains.

In the past, the national watchdog group said Iowa needed a modern public-health lab to track and fight fast-spreading disease outbreaks. The state is building a lab in Coralville.

Tuesday’s report says Iowa met eight of 10 indicators checked by the national group.

Those indicators include that the state has adequate plans to distribute emergency supplies of vaccines and other medications; that it has legal protections for health care volunteers who serve during an emergency; that it has an updated disease-surveillance system; and that it has increased or maintained money for public-health services.

The state failed to meet two measures: It does not have a “medical reserve corps coordinator,” and it was below the national average in identifying germs that caused food-poisoning outbreaks.

State officials said they have a position that’s comparable to the medical reserve corps coordinator, and they said they recently have beaten the national average on the food-poisoning-tracking issue.

More than half of states had scores of seven or fewer out of 10. Only five – Louisiana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Virginia and Wisconsin, met all 10 measures. The bottom six states – Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Maryland, Montana and Nebraska – met five of the 10 measures.