Last spring, as H1N1 avian influenza spread across the globe, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put out a call asking students to assist. Within three days, 85 students from Emoryâ€™s Rollins School of Public Health (RSPH) had volunteered.
Nick Schaad was among the students authorized to help man the CDCâ€™s Emergency Operations Center at the height of the novel H1N1 outbreak. Once the CDC began to identify influenza clusters, students began conducting phone surveys.
Schaad says he was involved in the St. Francis prep school survey in New York. Students and staff member who were sick with any flu-like symptoms were identified. The team called them and asked about the size of their household, what they might have done to protect themselves, and any recent travel. The goal was to learn as much possible about H1N1 in advance of the fall flu season.
Like the students they teach, RSPH faculty became engaged in the H1N1 epidemic. Last spring, Emory physician and microbiologist Keith Klugman, MD, PhD, was recruited to join the CDCâ€™s Team B, which includes experts from outside the CDC to quickly review and inform the agencyâ€™s efforts. CDC created Team B in the early 2000s to cope with the growing complexity of public health emergencies.
Klugman says his role included the bacterial complications of influenza. Evidence from 1918, notes Klugman, clearly shows that the great majority of deaths were due to bacterial complications of the flu. In other words, the flu itself could occasionally cause death on itss own. But it caused death mostly by facilitating a synergistic lethality between itself and bacteria.
Although much has changed since 1918, the bacteria that caused so many deaths still exist but are susceptible to antibiotics.
Klugman notes the evolution of the flu. He says so far it’s generally been moderate. However, by mixing with the circulating flu in the Southern Hemisphere, it could mutate and become resistant to the first line of flu drugs. It could also become more severe. Says Klugman, â€œWe must remain ever vigilant.â€