How do you stop the spread of a contagious disease? According to the Adair County Department, which held a simulation of an influenza outbreak Thursday, the key might be as simple as making sure the public stays calm and follows instructions.

The exercise was led by Medical Reserves Corps Coordinator Ron Stewart and Health Department Administrator Jim LeBaron. It was attended by representatives from various government offices, as well Truman State University.

The simulation provided participants with scenarios like a group of international travelers becoming ill or a state agency providing enough vaccines for only 20 percent of the county’s population and asked them how they would respond.

Stewart and LeBaron emphasized throughout the simulation that in an outbreak situation, it would be important to communicate with the public, encouraging them to follow Health Department protocols and to practice “social distancing” by staying away from crowds and public spaces.

Participants at the meeting discussed how to best respond in an outbreak situation and provided suggestions on how to control the spread of disease and encourage the spread of accurate information, as well as raising concerns like avoiding social media panics and preventing large public gatherings at Truman, where students eat together in a relatively small space.

Stewart said in an outbreak situation, the first step would be to determine what the illness was, including specifics like which strain was present in an influenza outbreak and how contagious it was. Then the Health Department would know which steps to begin taking to contain the spread of the disease.

LeBaron said another important step would be determining who would serve as the spokesperson for the outbreak who the public could turn to for reliable information. Coordinating those communications, he said, is an important reason to hold events like the flu simulation.

“We have great emergency management directors, but here in Kirksville, in northeast Missouri, we mainly think about tornados and snow and ice storms, maybe a chemical spill or something like that,” LeBaron said. “These kind of events today put public health disasters in with that group, so that all these community partners know that public health emergency events can be very complex as well.”

Stewart and LeBaron have experience dealing with a flu outbreak; the Health Department distributed medicine to pregnant women and young children to help halt the spread of the H1N1 strain in 2009.

“We went through most of what we talked about here today, except for the isolation and quarantine,” LeBaron said.

Stewart said if an outbreak of a highly contagious flu strand did occur, a major concern would be how to tell people they needed to do things like cancel sports games and church services and to stay out of public spaces as much as possible.

“How do you get that accomplished or cancel a high school basketball game? Those are tough,” Stewart said. “But as a community, you have to come together and discuss those things.”

LeBaron said the Health Department plans to continue its preparedness efforts by coordinating with all area schools to formulate a plan regarding how they would respond to an outbreak and how to coordinate potential school closures.

Stewart and LeBaron encouraged Adair residents to prepare for a potential outbreak by staying in touch with health information provided by reliable local sources like the Health Department and by keeping up to date with their vaccines.

The Health Department will be administering a drive-through flu vaccine event Oct. 3, in which participants can get vaccinated against four strains of influenza without leaving their cars. The drive-through locations will be the NEMO Fairgrounds, the Novinger Fire Department and Brashear Square, and vaccines will be available from noon to 6 p.m.

Stewart had one more piece of advice for preventing outbreaks.

“If you’re ill, stay home,” he said.