Emergency drill simulates measles outbreak

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What would happen if there was a widespread measles outbreak in Northwest Montana?

More than 40 staff members representing multiple health venues across Flathead County tackled that issue Wednesday during a full-scale emergency preparedness exercise.

The event, hosted by Kalispell Regional Healthcare and other local health-care agencies, simulated a widespread measles outbreak to assure facilities from Polson to Eureka and everywhere in between are able to treat infectious diseases should an outbreak occur.

According to Michelle Kimball, the emergency preparedness program manager for Kalispell Regional, the event was a success and Flathead health facilities are capable of coming together to manage any major outbreaks.

“We don’t go through this on a daily basis so it’s necessary to go through the motions every now and then,” Kimball said.

The three-hour long event walked everyone in attendance through a three-phase exercise.

The process began with identifying which patients had measles so the infected could be confined from others at the hospital. The other two steps focused on how to efficiently communicate a potential outbreak between health facilities, local law enforcement and local government, and organize necessary steps for moving forward.

A large part of the exercise was ensuring health facilities have the equipment and resources necessary for treating infectious diseases, such as gloves, coats, face masks and medicine.

When the emergency preparedness exercise was first discussed about seven months ago, the facilities wanted to simulate a disease that was a possibility in the Flathead Valley, Kimball said.

So the team settled on measles — a highly infectious airborne disease that can be difficult to manage.

“Ebola was unrealistic for this area and the flu is too common,” Kimball said. “We wanted something that would challenge us and our resources.”

Reporter Kianna Gardner may be reached at 758-4439 or kgardner@dailyinterlake.com.

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