YSU nursing students work anthrax drill

Simulation prepares for infectious disease outbreak

YOUNGSTOWN — Kilcawley Center was transformed Wednesday morning into a point of distribution to simulate an anthrax outbreak.

Youngstown State University nursing students and faculty involved in the drill received a Penguin Alert text message and an email alerting them to the “outbreak” and where to go to seek treatment.

The email read “Penguin Alert: A white substance, believed to be anthrax has been discovered in Kilcawley. YSU will be a distribution center for the health department. Anyone who was in or near Kilcawley Center today (Feb. 6) when the explosion occurred should report to the Ohio Room to receive any necessary medication.”

Anthrax is a serious infection that is contagious and can be fatal if not treated. According to the CDC, anthrax is the most common threat in bioterrorism, which is the intentional release of viruses, bacteria or other germs that can sicken or kill people, livestock or crops.

This is the fourth year YSU has partnered with the Youngstown Health Department, Mahoning County Health Department and Mercy Health to put on this simulation. The Ohio Room, within the Kilcawley Center, was converted into a full-scale, hands-on POD, or point of distribution, where participants were screened for symptoms and dispensed medication.

“Something like this is very important because if we really had to use this, we would know what to do and would have all the bugs worked out so it would run smoothly,” said Molly Roche, an assistant nursing professor. “If there was a real outbreak in the community, we’d take care of students, faculty and their family members. It would take some pressure off of the community.”

Roche, along with Wendy Thomas, another assistant nursing professor, lead the simulation.

“This trains the nurses just as much as it alerts the community for what to do. This simulation teaches everyone to be prepared in case something like this actually happens,” said Thomas. “We hope something like this never happens, but we need to be prepared in case it does.”

Students playing the role of community members signed in, providing their own name as well as the names of family members, then waited in line to be assessed to see if they were showing symptoms of the infection.

Some participants were told they had symptoms, such as a fever and chest pain. In some cases, symptoms were more severe as they were described as coughing up blood. Those infected were sent to the nurse’s station to be isolated. Those with no symptoms were sent to triage to receive medication.

Students on the intake side of the simulation practiced identifying symptoms and measuring the correct dose of medication.

A new aspect this year had those with visible symptoms removed from the waiting line and taken directly to the nurse’s station. This scenario was used to keep the infection from possibly spreading.

In the case of an actual outbreak, Kilcawley Center would act as a POD for the YSU community, it was noted. There would be other PODs established throughout Youngstown and the surrounding areas, for example one could be the Covelli Centre.

The idea was to make this simulation as real as possible by having some students show varying degrees of symptoms, some who did not speak English and having the POD run out of medication.

“This year we ran out, which is a true possibility because we’re going to be giving the amount of medication that is allotted to us. We’ll request a certain amount and may not get it. We had to close down the POD in hopes of getting more (medication) within the next 24 hours,” said Thomas. “This is a true reality, we could run out.”

After the POD ran out of medication, the simulation ended and the nursing students attended a “hot wash,” or debriefing, of the event.

Organizers called the simulation a success because students took the simulation seriously, those who were ill received the proper treatment and no one who showed symptoms contaminated healthy participants.

“We need simulations like this, so we can make things better, just in case,” said Roche.