La Crosse County health officials want a surge of people to test their ability to handle potentially disastrous incidents such as a large-scale illness outbreak or an anthrax attack.

They plan to kill two birds with one stone, scheduling a mass clinic drill during a family flu vaccine clinic from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Oct. 19 at Onalaska High School at 700 Hilltopper Place.

“We’re inviting the public to help us test the flexibility of our staff and training,” said Brenda Lutz-Hanson, a health educator with the La Crosse County Health Department.

The department hasn’t conducted such a drill since 2004, when an avian flu exercise took place at the La Crosse Center. It experienced a smaller-scale, real-life incident in May when a tuberculosis case was confirmed at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and a combination of county and UW-L health workers tested about 150 people for TB in two days.

“We don’t have the staff to handle a large outbreak,” Lutz-Hanson said. “We need to rely on partners and providers. We hope the community will participate in the test and help improve our response.”

Although health officials hope people take advantage of the flu clinic that day, getting a shot is not required to participate in the drill, said Julie Martine, a La Crosse County public health nurse.

“Our target is to give 600 vaccines to children and adults, but we definitely want more than 600 to participate,” she said. “We’d love to have 1,000.”

Those who aren’t getting shots but want to participate in the exercise will be asked to stop at six stations, such as triage, registration, check-in and education, just like those who are being vaccinated.

“We want everybody to be involved with each station to simulate the time,” Martine said. “We want them to experience what clinics would be like” in the event of a disaster.

Those who aren’t being vaccinated will be funneled into a placebo line, where they will receive candy instead of shots.

The flu shots will cost $30 for adults, although the following insurances may be billed: Medicare-Part B or Advantage Plans, Gundersen Health Plan or Senior Preferred, WEA, WCA and Medicaid/BadgerCare, according to the health department.

Shots and flu mist, while the limited supply of mist lasts, will be free for children from 6 months to 18 years. Children must have a completed consent form from a parent or guardian to receive the vaccination. Advance copies of the consent form can be found under forms at www.co.la-crosse.wi.us/health/links.asp.

Several agencies besides the county health department will participate in the clinic drill, including the health departments of Trempealeau County, Houston County, Minn., and the Ho-Chunk Nation. Also participating will be the Onalaska police and public works departments, the Onalaska School District, the La Crosse County Medical Reserve Corps and La Crosse County Emergency Management.

For more information, call La Crosse County Public Health Nursing at 608-785-9723.

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