UHL Delivers Pandemic Influenza Training Via Unique Game Board

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Pandemic Influenza Training

The University Hygienic Laboratory is using a game-board approach to promote pandemic-influenza awareness in each of Iowa's six emergency preparedness regions.

Through a grant awarded by the Association of Public Health Laboratories, UHL developed the "Influenza Surveillance and Preparedness Training for Iowa Clinical Laboratories" program. One of the central elements of the program is a board game designed by UHL to help train staff in Iowa's sentinel microbiology laboratories. These labs are located in hospitals, clinics and reference facilities and are the sentries that are most likely to see the beginning of an outbreak of influenza or other pandemic illness.

"Preparedness is a constant process," said UHL Interim Director Chris Atchison. "The laboratory continuously looks for new, dynamic strategies to help maintain the level of readiness throughout Iowa. We think that the game-board strategy makes maintaining this preparedness for possible threats easier to achieve."


UHL's training includes a tabletop exercise consisting of a series of scenarios taking place in a fictitious hospital in rural Iowa. Unlike most tabletop exercises, the one designed by UHL also includes a board game. The different chapters of the game lead participants through potential events, deficiencies and thought-provoking predicaments. After each chapter is read, players draw cards and either answer questions or discuss problems as they move plastic farm animals around the perimeter of an "influenza virus cell" in an attempt to return to "normal" by the end of the game.

"The game and the tabletop exercise are great learning tools because they are interactive and promote discussion," said Bonnie Rubin, UHL assistant director for planning and development. "Through our previous workshops, we learned that the hands-on teaching method works best for laboratorians."

Training locations are Ames, Council Bluffs, Mason City, Ottumwa, Sioux City and Toddville. This current training is the second part of a two-part series. The first phase, held earlier this year, guided sentinel lab staff in assessing their influenza testing capabilities and biosafety practices. This second phase focuses on Iowa's pandemic influenza plan and the laboratories' role in disease surveillance.

UHL provides training and information on a number of topics throughout the year, via training sessions, Internet communication and the Iowa Communications Network.

The University Hygienic Laboratory is the state of Iowa's environmental and public health laboratory, with facilities located on the University of Iowa's Oakdale Campus in Iowa City and at the Iowa Lab Facilities in Ankeny, a Des Moines suburb. Among its many services, the laboratory functions as a consultative and analytical support facility for state agencies, health professionals, and citizens. UHL is part of the University of Iowa and has developed and maintained effective and productive collaborations with the Iowa Department of Public Health, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Geological Survey, and local public health agencies.

UHL performs analyses on samples from virtually all matrices, including human clinical specimens, air, drinking water, wastewater, soil, sediment, industrial effluents, oil and fish. In addition to performing analyses by specified methods, the UHL provides methods development and procedure verification for nonroutine analyses.