Avoiding the 1976 Swine Flu panic

By Jon Kalahar - bio | email

JACKSON, MS (WLOX) - In 1976, 300 soldiers at Fort Dix, New Jersey contracted the Swine Flu, killing one. The nation feared an epidemic.

Fast forward to 2009, and many of those fears are back, but several other things are different.

"Good judgment and prudence demand that we, across the country, complete the evaluation of this report before going forward with the influenza vaccination program," said Alton Cobb in September 1976 as Director of the State Health Department.

Cobb was talking about the suspension of the state's Swine Flu vaccination program. The federal government spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in Mississippi, but not one case was ever confirmed. Today, the reaction will be more calculated.

"We have expected another pandemic. There was a pandemic in 1969 and in 1957 and that was our expectation. It happens every so often," said Mississippi State Epidemiologist Dr. Mary Currier.

The State Health Department receives dozens of specimens a day, and so far Mississippi doesn't have a single case of Swine Flu. Dr. Currier said the most recent outbreak is simply another version of influenza that the nation must figure out how to treat.

"Every year it changes a little bit, it drifts a little bit from what it was the year before. That's why we have to have a new vaccine every year," said Currier.

And right now, the best rule of thumb? If you feel bad, stay home.

"If folks do feel bad, they should definitely stay home so they don't give it to other people. But we would want you to do that with regular influenza as well," said Currier.

Currier said there are no plans to close any schools. She said even with a confirmed case of Swine Flu, the decision would be made by both the Departments of Health and Education.

Friday, State Superintendent of Education Dr. Hank Bounds is scheduled to discuss precautionary measures in place by his department.

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