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Alumnae from Institute of Health lectures on H1N1 virus

Carolynn Smith | Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Dr. Mary Anne Luzar, a 1972 College graduate, was back on the Saint Mary’s campus Tuesday night to speak about the H1N1 pandemic.

Luzar works for the National Institute of Health as Chief of the Regulatory Affairs Branch in the Division of AIDS at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

“We have to look at what we can learn from pandemics, and that’s why I wanted to speak tonight,” Luzar said.

Luzar opened her presentation by defining the differences between an epidemic and a pandemic and making sure there was a clear understanding between the two.

“An epidemic is a disease that occurs with greater frequency than expected,” Luzar said. “Some examples are the Bird Flu and SARS. A pandemic is an epidemic that spreads all over the world or a major region of the world. These include AIDS, TB, Malaria, Spanish flu, and the ‘black death’ of the 14th century,” Luzar said.

Luzar made a point to explain that there have been many pandemics and epidemics in the past, and humans are knowledgeable about these events.

“Over the past 300 years there have been 11 influenza pandemics. The Spanish Influenza in 1918 is the most fatal event in world history with 20-50 million deaths,” Luzar said.

Luzar said pandemics are sudden disease outbreaks that are unpredictable and can also occur at any time in the year.

“That is just something we have to deal with and prepare for,” Luzar said. “But once a pandemic appears it does not just go away. It will continue for years, which is why we need to pay attention to H1N1.”

Luzar also said the H1N1 virus is a distant cousin of the 1918 Spanish Influenza but is still an entirely new virus.

“Symptoms of H1N1 are similar to the flu but with additional symptoms like diarrhea,” Luzar said. “It spreads through respiratory droplets, coughs and sneezes, touching objects touched by an infectious person, then touching your nose and mouth.”

H1N1 has affected many people around the world. Children and young adults are amongst those most affected.

“Two hundred-thirty countries had cases of H1N1 and today there have been around 20,000 deaths due to H1N1,” Luzar said.

The H1N1 response was considered a success because of rapid worldwide communications, and the vaccine was approved quickly and given to priority groups first, Luzar said.

“It is very hard to know if you are successful in these endeavors. I’m proud of what we did. I think we did the right thing. And not doing anything would have been unacceptable,” Luzar said. “This pandemic taught us that we are not immune to them because we are in the 21st century. Virus and disease are always just one step ahead of us. This was a dress rehearsal of what could happen in the future so we need to be prepared.”

This event was co-sponsored by College Relations and the Career Crossings Office.