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Pandemic Flu Still A Concern Say Health Officials
Monday, April 8, 2013    
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Six people have died in eastern China from bird flu.

The flu season may be winding down, but that's no time to stop worrying about influenza, particularly pandemic flu, according to health officials. That's where a strain of influenza mutates from an animal, such as a pig, chicken or duck, and then easily passes from one person to another, rather than having a human contract it directly from that animal.

A few year ago, there was concern that bird flu, known as H1N1, could mutate into a strain that would go from human to human, which would lead to a pandemic. But that didn't happen. During that time, Frederick County Health Officer Dr. Barbara Bookmyer said when it comes to pandemic flu hitting again, it was not a question of if, but when.

"I would still say it's question of when, not if," she says. "It could be the cyclical pattern where it might not be for 50 years."

The last major flu outbreak in the United States was in 1968, with the Hong Kong Flu.

Over the weekend, it was reported that six people died in eastern China from a bird flu strain classified as H7N9. Twelve people have become ill, according to health officials. But they say it's probably due to close contact between humans and fowl, such as chickens. There's no evidence it's easily spreading from human to human, health officials there say.

Dr. Brookmyer says CDC and other health agencies in the US are keeping a close watch on what's happening in China.

"But we continue to be watching very closely what the transmission is," she says.

Flu season is winding down, and if you didn't get sick, you're fortunate. But Dr. Brookmyer says that's no reason to take influenza lightly. "A lot of people say, 'Oh, the flu! It's not a serious thing.' But it's still the number seven cause of death in Maryland and also in Frederick County," she says.

Even though it's too late to get vaccinated, Dr. Brookmyer says you should do so when flu season begins again in the fall.

"We've seen that this year is typical of other years, where the peak of the season occurs in February," says Dr. Brookmyer. So far, she says she doesn't have any statistics on how the flu affected Frederick County.