Students, public health leaders to test readiness for disease outbreak

March 20, 2015


DATE: 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday, March 28, 2015

EVENT: Public health emergency response preparedness exercise for “Phoenicious Pox”

PLACE: Kipke Center, U-M Athletic Campus, 1239 Kipke Drive, Ann Arbor

INFORMATION: With recent headlines focused on a resurgence of measles and other illnesses once eradicated in most parts of the world, leaders of an annual preparedness exercise have decided to move beyond the “zombie invasion” of the last two years to a somewhat more realistic but still fictional threat: Phoenicious Pox.

Phoenicious, the Latin word for “purple-red,” describes an imaginary virus that causes a pockmark-leaving skin rash thought to have been contracted by U-M students during a spring break trip.

The fake disease provides lessons to prepare future and current professionals for any health crisis, said Dr. Eden Wells, clinical associate professor of epidemiology at the U-M School of Public Health. The response teams will act as though the disease is real by assisting Washtenaw County Public Health in implementing its plan to treat the masses and, if possible, to stop it in its tracks, she said.

“The objective to test mass vaccination plans and response to this kind of public health threat is timely given recent concerns about flu and measles,” Wells said. “The team may have to vaccinate a whole community within a day or two, 100 or more people an hour.”

The exercise involves students enrolled in Wells’ Applied Epidemiology in Public Health Practice course, U-M College of Pharmacy students, Eastern Michigan University and Washtenaw Community College nursing students, Washtenaw County Public Health leaders and other emergency management personnel from Southeast Michigan.

“These are professionals in our community who would be called on for a real emergency. The list of participants grows each year. We’re trying to make this a community event,” Wells said.

She said the team learns something new every year.

“They have to react to patients with no IDs, who can’t speak English or who have special needs, because that’s what happens in real life,” Wells said.

This is critical work for Washtenaw County Public Health, which is charged with having local plans in place to respond to public health emergencies.

“We have the responsibility and the authority to take action to protect the health of the entire community in an emergency,” said Cindra James, emergency preparedness administrator for Washtenaw County Public Health. “The best way to do this is to practice—and to practice with diverse groups and partners.”

“In this way, we can be ready for most anything and be ready to serve everyone, should we need to provide emergency medication to the entire community in an emergency.

According to James, Washtenaw County Public Health will focus on testing plans for mass vaccination, planning with community partners and providing local nursing students direct experience in a public health emergency response operation in this year’s fictional Phoenicious Pox exercise.

“This collaboration provides an excellent opportunity to practice our emergency plans and work with local partners and volunteers,” she said.