Perhaps the main lesson to be learned from the 1976 outbreak is one for health authorities, said Hsu and other experts.
Back in 1976, the administration of then-president Gerald Ford, on the advice of the CDC, initiated a mass vaccination program, inoculating more than 43 million people (25 percent of the population). But that undertaking resulted in serious side effects, most notably an estimated 500 cases of a rare condition called Guillain-Barre syndrome, including 25 related deaths.
The debacle -- where vaccination actually caused more trouble than the flu itself -- forced the resignation of the director of the CDC.
This time around, "it looks like the CDC is evaluating that lesson very carefully," Hsu remarked. "They've been watching very carefully and evaluating the investment of a vaccine."
Given the time in which they lived and the resources available, health officials responded relatively quickly to the 1976 version of swine flu, said DiFerdinando, who was acting commissioner of health for New Jersey during another public health emergency, the 2001 anthrax attacks.
Still, the current outbreak also illustrates how far public health responses have progressed since 1976, Lillibridge said.
The CDC's rapid and constantly updated response to the outbreak was first in evidence during the 2003 SARS outbreak, and "it's happening again here in 2009," he said.
There's more on the current swine flu outbreak at the CDC.
SOURCES: Chiehwen Ed Hsu, Ph.D., associate professor, public health informatics, University of Texas School of Health Information Sciences at Houston, and associate director, health informatics, Center for
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