Disregard flu predictions, Potomac expert says
Board helps governor with policies on the illness
ANNAPOLIS — As the swine flu scare continues, nothing seems clear about the future of the illness, a doctor advising Gov. Martin O'Malley said Monday.
"I think the right answer is we don't have all the information yet, and anyone who is predicting what we'll see from this day forward is hoping to get lucky," said Dr. Ivan C.A. Walks of Potomac.
Walks is part of a six-member Swine Flu Medical Advisory Board, holding conference calls with O'Malley (D) at least once a day to discuss new developments in the illness, also known as the H1N1 virus.
Walks said the board helps balance statements that say, on the one hand, that this outbreak isn't much different from seasonal flu, with others that claim the worst is ahead.
With experts in epidemiology, pediatrics and infectious diseases, the board helps make sure state agencies are "singing from the same songbook," he said.
"It's an opportunity to hear guidance and advice from the best medical minds in the state and region," O'Malley spokesman Shaun Adamec said.
The members collect and analyze information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and other sources — including the Food and Agriculture Organisation in Canada.
The FAO reported that an Alberta man returned from a trip to Mexico and infected a herd of pigs with the swine flu.
"On its face, it's kinda funny," Walks said.
But still, it's information a governor needs to know.
"It begs the question, Has the virus changed?' Because the viruses do that," Walks said.
Can the virus move back and forth between pigs and people? From pigs to other animals? How should Maryland agriculture respond? Egypt has ordered the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of pigs to prevent the spread of the flu.
In an interview this week with Fox 5 news, Walks also said the advisory board is "lock step" with the CDC on its recommendation on closing schools when there's a confirmed case of the swine flu among students or staff.
The CDC, which had called for the schools to be closed for 14 days, announced yesterday a new recommendation that schools stay open. Rockville High School, which has two students with suspected cases of the swine flu, was closed indefinitely on Friday.
Walks, who was chief health officer for the District of Columbia and directed the District's Department of Public Health, now is the CEO and president of Ivan Walks and Associates, a firm that trains jurisdictions on disaster preparedness.
Another member of the board, Dr. Thomas V. Inglesby, said the group provides O'Malley with external views of how the state is doing in handling swine flu. He gave a positive assessment. Can they do anything better? "If so, I don't know what that is," said Inglesby, chief operating officer of the Baltimore-based Center for Biosecurity of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
Other board members are Dr. John G. Bartlett, a Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine professor; Dr. Frank M. Calia, chairman of the Department of Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine; Dr. James P. Nataro, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine; and Dr. Ina Stephens, assistant professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
Although he scorned swine flu predictions, Walks offered this: "We'll probably continue to see what we're seeing now for some time. And then maybe when the real flu season comes back around, we'll see this come back."