Symposium News: Wednesday and Thursday 4-5 December- Solving the mystery of Mysteria

Outbreak simulation exercise

Day 1 – initial outbreak investigation

Working in multi-disciplinary and mixed-country teams delegates honed their disease outbreak investigation and communication skills following reports of a cluster of people falling ill with a mysterious disease on day 1 of the two-day simulation exercise. The situation became more complex as participants learned that dogs in the same village had also become sick with a similar illness. As the outbreak unfolded further, the teams received information that people in an area of northern India also had a similar illness and a large number of dogs had died in Nepal showing similar mysterious signs.

During the afternoon participants had the realistic experience of interviewing farmers in the village from which the first cases in the simulated disease outbreak were reported, gathering evidence to help solve the mystery with the help of Bhutanese interpreters. The interpreters then became actors, playing the role of the sick people and of healthy people who had been in contact with them. Responding to the investigators’ questions according to their pre-prepared scripts, these people each revealed key pieces of information that when put together at the end of the day provided vital clues as to the source of this mysterious illness for the people who became sick in Bhutan. However, the cause of the illness still had not yet been determined by the end of the first day.

Day 2 – investigation extends across the south Asia region

Senior human and animal health government officials from the seven participating SAARC countries who had joined the symposium on Wednesday evening became involved in solving the Mysteria outbreak on day two of the simulation exercise. Now working in multi-disciplinary country teams, senior officials and their technical advisors were challenged with managing the outbreak of unknown cause that had now also been reported in Bangladesh. The teams were tasked with managing frightened tourists who wanted to be flown home free of charge to escape the threat of the disease, bans on the importation of animal products imposed by some countries, and managing Ministerial communications at the same time as further investigation of the outbreak as more information and a diagnostic laboratory test became available.

By the end of day 2 most teams had successfully identified the source of the disease and how it had spread to the affected countries across the region, identifying appropriate measures to stop further spread. The active engagement in piecing together and managing the intriguing twists and turns of the simulated outbreak provided very valuable learning opportunities in the investigation and management of such a complex disease outbreak involving multiple species and multiple countries. Participants thoroughly enjoyed solving Mysteria and found it to be a valuable learning exercise.