The Eastern Idaho Public Health District educated the public about bioterrorism by staging a mock anthrax emergency in the BYU-Idaho Center Gymnasium on May 1.
“We always pray, with this being an exercise, that this never happens. But the reason why we do [these mock scenarios] is to prepare ourselves in case it does,” said Mimi Taylor, a public information officer for the Eastern Idaho Public Health District.
As students and community members entered the BYU-I Center basketball courts, health district volunteers informed them that they had been exposed to anthrax when a crop duster, passing over Porter Park, released an aerosolized form of anthrax.
They were then handed a medical questionnaire asking about allergies and previous health conditions, which determined the type of antibiotic they would need.
After filling out the form, individuals were then screened for the appropriate antibiotic.
Since this was an exercise, the medication was peanut M&M’s.
Individuals received that medication with instructions on how to take it, and then they were free to go home.
“Once you have been exposed [to anthrax] you can’t ever unexpose
yourself. But you can prepare the body with these medications that once symptoms develop, the medication lessens the severity of the symptoms,” Taylor said. “What happens with most respiratory things when you have symptoms, when they get bad, you die from them. Anything you can do to minimize the severity of the symptoms is huge.”
According to www.osha.gov, the Occational Safety and Health Administration’s website, it is important to seek treatment early because of the dangerous nature of anthrax exposure.
“Timeliness is huge. We recommend that you should be treated 48 hours after exposure,” Taylor said.
According to www.cdc.gov, the Centers for Disease Control’s website, there are three types of anthrax diseases which are: Cutaneous,which results in sores and blisters; Gastrointestinal, which results in nausea, loss of appetite and stomach pain; and Inhalation, which starts with flu-like symptoms that worsen over time.
“Inhalation anthrax is much more severe. In 2001, about half of the cases of inhalation anthrax ended in death,” according to www.cdc.gov.
The website also said that 80 percent of people who are infected with Cutaneous anthrax do not die, even if they go untreated.
Gastrointestinal anthrax is more serious because between one-fourth and more than half of cases lead to death.
The purpose of these clinics is to prepare communities and individuals for health emergencies all over the United States.
“If we had not had [a plan] already in place when H1N1 happened, we would have gone crazy,” Taylor said.
“We have so many things in place. We have the paperwork, the forms already made and on clipboards, because if you are looking at 48 hours to pull something together like this from scratch — it could not be done.”
According to the Southern Nevada Health District, emergency health plans are set in order for officials to respond immediately and effectively.
“We don’t want to be sitting ducks,” Taylor said.