State pretends terrorists spread anthrax at NOLA Mardi Gras parades

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Imagine a terrorist spreading anthrax at a Mardi Gras parade. It could kill thousands of people. It hasn't happened. We hope it never does. But on Friday, for training purposes, state and federal health officials pretended it had. This was only a drill. WAFB Medical Correspondent Phil Rainier has the story.

You don't have to tell people in South Louisiana that Mardi Gras is a huge celebration. Thousands of people flock to New Orleans just to be part of it.

"Don't panic. Do what you need to do. Keep moving." That was the head of Louisiana's Office of Public Health Jimmy Guidry.

For this training exercise, emergency medical teams are responding to a terrorist attack. Anthrax spores were released at two parades. It's anybody's guess how many people may have been exposed.

Guidry says, "Once you've been exposed to anthrax, you have about 48 hours to get medicine into people to keep them from getting the disease."

To keep things realistic, one man pretended to have a seizure to just keep paramedics on their toes. State and federal health officials hand out fake antibiotics to as many people as possible as quickly as possible.  The way drill was set up; similar scenarios are being played out simultaneously at five mock response sites across South Louisiana.

According to Guidry, "The whole idea about the drill is to learn where there are places we can improve.  This is kind of like preparing for something we hope never happens. If it were to happen, we're better prepared."

Unfortunately, the only way to know how effective training like this has been for state and federal response teams is after a real large-scale medical emergency.

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