If Brunswick County were to be hit with a sudden case of wide-spread tularemia, county health services would be prepared and ready to go.
On Monday, Brunswick County Health Service representatives put on their rain jackets and ponchos and gathered in the wet empty parking lot of South Brunswick High School to run a medicine dispensing exercise, the county’s first-ever full-scale exercise. The disease of the day: tularemia, more commonly known as rabbit fever.
“The exercise allows county officials to practice the steps they would take to quickly and efficiently distribute preventative medicine to a large number of residents, like might be done if there were an outbreak of a contagious disease,” said Brunswick County Information Officer Amanda Hutchinson.
Sometimes used in acts of bioterrorism, tularemia is a bacteria found in small mammals, which if inhaled can cause severe respiratory illness and life-threatening pneumonia. While the medicines used to treat the illness are Doxcycline and Ciproflaxin, at Monday’s exercise nurses from throughout the county substituted the real medicine with a sweet banana flavored candy.
In order to serve a massive amount of people in a short amount of time, cars go through what seems to be a drive-through lane of diagnosis, with multiple stops along the way to keep traffic flowing.
“The idea is to get people through as quickly and efficiently as possible,” said Cyndi Glenn, nursing director for the Brunswick County Health Department. While the medicine may be fake, the procedure is not, and nurses diagnose each “patient” coming through the drive-thru thoroughly before dispensing the medication.
“If we knew a large number of our citizens needed to be treated in a small amount of time we would set up strategic dispensing sites such as these at county schools and hospitals and our health director would call for a strategic national stock-pile of medication, which would come from the state and take a few hours to receive,” said Glenn. “The more we exercise it, the quicker we can do it in a true event.”
Monday in the school parking lot, from start to finish, the process takes no more than a few minutes.
Glenn said while other counties throughout the state participate in similar programs to maintain accreditation of health service programs, most practice for an outbreak of the flu or anthrax. “We chose tularemia because we wanted to think outside the box and we just wanted to be different,” said Glenn.
“We wanted to do something a little more challenging.”
James Mieczkowski is a news reporter for Port City Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org On Twitter: @mieczkowskiPCD