Helen L. Regnery,

Helen L. Regnery,

A weeklong electronic journal.
Feb. 4 1998 3:30 AM

Helen L. Regnery,

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       My first experience writing a diary has already shown me how much is done at CDC every day. While this day was not the most dramatic, like the day we saw a new outbreak of "bird flu," it was a continuation of happenings that are making the 1997-98 influenza season one of the most memorable.
       The major work for me today was writing a package insert that will go into our supplemental influenza-diagnosis kit that will be distributed tomorrow to the U.S. public-health laboratories. One of the responsibilities of our branch, as a global World Health Organization center, is to provide reagents for the identification of influenza to all U.S. public-health laboratories, as well as to all international participants in the global WHO influenza-surveillance network. Normally, this is done during the summer and distributed in September. The kit has to be prepared annually, just as the vaccine has to be prepared each year. The smart "flu bug" likes to keep us busy. Unbelievably, we had to prepare three kits this year--one as usual, one for influenza A(H5N1) (the "bird flu"), and now one for a new member of the influenza A(H3N2) family that came unexpectedly to visit the United States this season. This new member, A/Sydney/05/97, outfoxed us by not reacting well in our diagnostic kit distributed in September. So, we will do our best to cut the Sydney virus off at the pass and have a diagnostic kit available pronto, and get ready to include this guy in the 1998-99 vaccine.
       Sandwiched in my writing of the package insert were personnel issues, correspondence to international collaborators via e-mail, work with the secretary on program-planning documents, and three press interviews. One press-related project, of course, is this diary; the second is an interview with an Associated Press reporter, and the third is a radio talk show. Although I am a scientist and public-health nut, I am happy to do this for general public information. My goal in all press-related work is to try to make myself understood well enough to have the final report published with few misconceptions. The flu business is much more complicated than can be seen on the surface. In the past, information has been misunderstood, causing confusion in the public's mind. To everyone's credit, we all have got better at providing information more clearly, and consequently more accurate articles are being written. However, my short fuse lights when everyone rushes just to get the job done and the few extra minutes that invariably make the difference are not taken. Also, pushy people light my fuse when they expect we should stop everything for a deadline (not the Slate folks; this is fun--I can use my personal jargon here). So much for my bandwagon!
       Tomorrow will be a busy meeting day. Data review in preparation for the WHO Geneva meeting and program-planning sessions. Have a nice evening.

Helen L. Regnery is a flu specialist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.