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Flu Stories

How worried are you about a pandemic flu?

Scientists consider the threat of a world-wide influenza epidemic to be a matter of "when," not "if." A deadly strain of avian flu is thought to be the most likely culprit as it continues to pop up in undeveloped countries around the globe. So far, that one has not proven to be easily transmissible from human to human, but many experts figure it's just a matter of time. And when it does, watch out: As The Post's David Brown reported in Dec. 2006, a flu pandemic today would likely kill 62 million people.

Those concerned with public health are trying to get ahead of the next outbreak; just yesterday researchers at University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine announced it has received federal funding to test its promising avian-flu vaccine. As I wrote back in April, officials suggest that people figure out now how they'd handle being away from work and keeping kids home from school in the event of a serious outbreak.

Yet, what with the price of gas, the state of the economy, presidential politics, and everything else commanding our attention, I don't imagine many of us laypeople are lying awake at night worrying about the flu. I know I'm not.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) would like to change that. Arguing that awareness of the likelihood of another pandemic such as the one that killed 50 million people 90 years ago is the first step toward preparation and perhaps even prevention, the CDC has come up with a novel way to focus attention on pandemic flu. A Web site launched August 21 features first-person accounts written by survivors of the 1918-1919 or 1957 flu pandemics and their descendants. (On a bright note, scientists announced recently that those who DID survive were protected against that strain of flu for the rest of their lives.) It's not always easy reading -- some of the stories are very sad -- but it's riveting.

The site includes nearly 50 stories telling how people coped with, tried to treat, and died from the flu. Some are accompanied by photos of perfectly healthy-looking folks who succumbed. Perhaps most disturbing is the fact, driven home by those photos, that many flu strains, including one circulating in 1918, have proven particularly deadly to young adults, striking many parents of young children and others just getting started in life.

Here's a sample, written by one Debbie Crane about her grandmother Edna Breedlove Clampitt's ordeal:

By mid-December, the whole family was terribly ill. They ached. Their throats hurt. They coughed and coughed. My great-grandmother, Ida Mae Breedlove, gave birth even as she lay sick. My grandmother described one terrible night when the whole family sounded as if they were all drowning. In the morning, Ida and 2-year old Woodrow were dead. The newborn, named Paul, died days later. My grandmother was never sure if it was the flu that killed him, or if he simply starved to death in a household where everyone was just too weak to take care of him.

The site's not about wallowing in the past, though. The CDC wants those who visit to click on the links posted there that lead to information about steps individual states have taken to prepare for the next pandemic and about things people like you and me can do to prepare ourselves and our communities for that eventuality. Readers are also invited to submit their own recollections of flu pandemics they've experienced.

Do you think state and federal governments have done enough to get ready? Have you taken any such steps yourself?

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  August 26, 2008; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  General Health  
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Am I worried that a pandemic will arise? It's one tiny notch above the low-level terrorism fear I had when still living in DC - it's one of those things that are more likely to happen than not, but not terribly imminent. Since my husband travels back and forth to DC a lot (and on planes in general), yeah, it's something at the back of my mind.

I'm not hoarding food or wearing masks in public. And I'm not at "Monk" levels of public cleanliness, though I'm usually known to have a package of wipes or antibacterial hand gel on my person. Because infection can be chance. You can be on line in the supermarket and someone coughs in your vicinity - you simply can't stop something like that.

Because the thing about a pandemic like the 1918 Influenza is that it moved fast AND killed quickly. And, most likely, will be one of the strains your average flu shot does not cover. And under this administration (and the next whatever it will be, because it has to repair the damage of this administration), I know the Federal Government is not logistically prepared for something like this.

And really, a pandemic is Mother Nature's way of thinning the herd occasionally. The harder we fight, the nastier bug she's just gonna come up with.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 26, 2008 9:21 AM | Report abuse

How would people know what the Federal, state and local governments are doing with regard to Pandemic preparedness? Dumb question. You could have outlined what is being done and what is being expected of individuals so that this could have been educational.

Posted by: commentator | August 26, 2008 9:52 AM | Report abuse

I rememember nightly newscasts from a few years back when health correspondents kept on playing up the threat of The Killer Flu and eventually seemed disappointed that it never materialized.

Virulent flu strains are a concern that must be addressed at the local, state, federal, and world levels. But so are natural disasters and terrorist attacks, and both seem to be much more likely.

Posted by: Franconia | August 26, 2008 11:06 AM | Report abuse

My company has a corporate task force to evaluate the threat and educate our employees and customers. Locally we have looked at work-at-home options, replaced towel and soap dispensers in the restrooms with hands free devices, and developed fact sheets to educate our employees and their families. These are sensible options for everyday health ... we were hit pretty hard at the end of February for about 6 weeks of the annual flu season ... but raising consciousness now will hopefully make a full court press easier to implement during a pandemic.

Posted by: michael | August 26, 2008 1:28 PM | Report abuse

Hi, commentator: It's hard to fit that much information into a blog! The CDC link I included contains tons of links leading to all kinds of information about who is doing what to prepare for a pandemic and about what individuals can do, too. Thanks for commenting.

Posted by: Jennifer Huget | August 26, 2008 1:44 PM | Report abuse

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