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1976 Swine Flu Outbreak Offers Echoes, Lessons Today
Date:5/4/2009

Current response more coordinated, precise, U.S. experts say

MONDAY, May 4 (HealthDay News) -- Seemingly out of nowhere, a new strain of flu linked to one usually seen in pigs emerges, spreads and sets off alarms among officials and the U.S. public.

Sound familiar? Just such a swine flu outbreak occurred decades ago, in 1976, and the course of that event shows that such an outbreak doesn't necessarily lead to mass mortality or even widespread infection, experts say.

It may also show how far the country has come in dealing with epidemic disease.

"Isn't it impressive we have detection and connectivity and surveillance worldwide on influenza that is changing on an hour-by-hour basis?" said Dr. Scott R. Lillibridge, a professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Rural Public Health in Houston and executive director of the National Center for Emergency Medical Preparedness and Responses. "What a change in the way we do business."

The 1976 outbreak occurred in wintertime among troops stationed at Fort Dix, N.J. In the end, about 240 people fell ill, and the original infected soldier died. But the illness never spread beyond the base.

While the way the outbreak was handled has some lessons for today's scare, "the parallels we can draw from the 1976 outbreak are very limited because it was a limited outbreak," said Chiehwen Ed Hsu, an associate professor of public health informatics at the University of Texas School of Health Information Sciences at Houston and associate director of health informatics at the Center for Biosecurity and Public Health Preparedness at the University of Texas School of Public Health.

"It was pretty straightforward," recalled Robert A. Lamb, a professor of immunology at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago and an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. "There was an outbreak at Fort Dix. One recruit died w
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