KINGSTON, R.I. – April 24, 2012 – Don’t be alarmed if you see a person dressed in a biohazard suit Thursday afternoon outside the University of Rhode Island’s Memorial Union.
That individual will just be watching for zombies and making sure they don’t get anywhere near the Ram’s Den while URI pharmacy students try to keep the virus that causes zombiism from spreading.
From 2 to 3:30 p.m., 25 pharmacy students will be running a mock dispensing clinic, during which anti-viral medications mockingly named Zombivir and Gummivir (really just Sour Patch and Gummy Bears candies) will be given to individuals to prevent the disease’s spread.
The mock distribution clinic is the brainchild of Jeffrey Bratberg, URI clinical associate professor of pharmacy and an expert on bioterrorism, pandemics and natural disasters who serves on the Rhode Island Disaster Medical Assistance Team, which completed two tours of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
“We are running a mock point of dispensing (POD) operation, which is the standard in response to outbreaks of small pox, flu or anthrax,” Bratberg said.
The focus of his public health class is to teach pharmacy students how to recognize infectious disease outbreaks, how they spread among populations, what the symptoms look like and where in the world they develop.
“I break the class into groups and assign each group a disease,” Bratberg said. “Then we run table top exercises each week, during which students outside the group pepper the group members with questions about how they would respond to a number of variables,” said Bratberg, who is also a consultant with the Rhode Island Department of Health.
“We have been working regularly with the Department of Health throughout the semester, and its personnel came to the class to train and certify the students as mass antibiotic dispensers,” the professor said. “In addition, they have all been trained in the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Incident Command System, which spells out very clear roles for emergency responders.”
In preparation for Thursday’s drill, the students practiced with point of dispensing kits donated by the Town of Charlestown. “They will be using the actual equipment used in an emergency clinic,” Bratberg said.
“Because any clinic would face drug interaction issues or side effect issues, we are planning to offer two mock anti-virals,” he added. “And as everyone knows, if you can get treatment within 24 hours of a bite from a zombie, you won’t come down with the symptoms. So, if people come to the clinic with (mock) bite marks within 24 hours, we will give them both anti-virals. If people show up with bite marks that were made beyond 24 hours or those who show up with full zombie symptoms, we will have security to turn them away.
“And that’s exactly how we run real-life clinics,” Bratberg said. “Clinics do not want those who have come down with the illness to come and infect those who are healthy.”
The students have been inviting other pharmacy students and their friends to participate in the clinic. There are enough mock anti-virals for 500 patients.
“We have all kinds of scenarios, including pregnant women, hysterical individuals, those who want to volunteer at the clinic, but are not part of the core group,” Bratberg said. “We want to really test our response, while bringing a bit of levity to the proceedings.”
The students got a clue about the direction of the class early in the semester when they were required to read the books, The Zombie Preparedness Guide and World War Z.