Gina Kolata, New York Times science writer and the author of Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus that Caused It, will open a series of three presentations titled "Pandemic Influenza Threat: Understand and Prepare," tonight at the Princeton Public Library.
The series is co-sponsored by the Princeton Public Library and the Princeton Regional Health Commission. Future presentations will be held on Wednesday, September 20, and Thursday, September 28.
In her talk, Ms. Kolata, who has been reporting on science, medicine, and public health issues for The New York Times since 1987, will describe the effects of the 1918 pandemic and discuss the likelihood that avian influenza will develop into the next pandemic.
The 1918 epidemic killed upwards of 40 million people (some estimates say the death toll may have been as high as 100 million) around the globe.
Ms. Kolata's book, Flu, was a national bestseller and won the 2000 Book Award from the New Jersey Council for the Humanities.
It described what is still regarded as the most deadly infectious disease epidemic in recorded history.
While researching her book on the impact of this pandemic, Ms. Kolata spoke to laboratory scientists currently working with samples of the virus. Her book also considered the prospects for a recurrence of an equally lethal pandemic today.
In a telephone interview this week, Ms. Kolata said: "People think that there will be a pandemic, but from the scientists I have talked to, the timing is very unpredictable, it could be 100 years from now or quite soon."
"If a pandemic were to come, it would most likely be as a result of global travel," she said.
Ms. Kolata suggested that the public should become as informed as possible about the degree of threat.
"It's hard for the public to ask scientists since that's not the job of a scientist. On the other hand, politicians are not scientists, so it's not easy to get an accurate assessment."
In addition to informative lectures, Ms. Kolata recommends websites such as the New York Times (www.ny times.com).
"But be skeptical of those pushing their own agendas such as people trying to get funding for their own preparedness programs," she warned.
Known for her coverage of scientific advances in cloning and disease prevention, Ms. Kolata was a senior writer for Science magazine before joining the New York Times. She studied molecular biology at M.I.T. and has a Master's degree in applied mathematics.
Her books include Clone: The Road to Dolly and the Path Ahead (William Morrow 1998), The Baby Doctors: Probing the Limits of Fetal Medicine (Dell 1990), and Combating the Number One Killer: The Science Report on Heart Disease, with Jean Marx (The American Association for the Advancement of Science 1978).
In 1995, she received the Susan G. Komen Foundation's media award for reporting on women's issues and breast cancer.
The topic of a pandemic for a series of talks at the library comes in response to public fears that the current H5N1 bird flu virus will spread around the globe.
"This is an important and timely public health concern," said Susan Roth, recently retired Reader Services Coordinator, who set up the series of talks to bring experts to the library for an informed discussion of the implications of historic pandemics and the science behind today's influenza viruses.
"As concerns about a potential flu pandemic spread, we are pleased to be able to partner with the Princeton Regional Health Commission in order to provide vital health information and perspectives to the community," she said.
The second talk in the series on Wednesday, September 20, at 7:30 p.m., features Laura H. Kahn, associate research scholar at the Woodrow Wilson School Program in Science and Global Security and a member of the Princeton Regional Health Commission.
Dr. Kahn will discuss the differences between bacteria and viruses and explain why antibiotics do not work for viruses. Focusing on the influenza virus, its origins and why there are pandemics, Dr. Kahn will also cover the processes by which influenza spreads, how it is treated, and what should be done to prepare for a possible pandemic, including ways in which members of the Princeton community can protect themselves.
The series will close on Thursday, September 28, at 7:30 p.m. with a panel discussion on individual and community preparedness. Experts will give practical advice on how to prepare for and respond to an influenza pandemic.
Prospective panelists include Dr. Lisa Bonwell, head of infection control at University Medical Center at Princeton; Princeton Health Officer David Henry; Princeton attorney Grayson Barber; and Ted Cashel, an emergency response specialist with the State Police Homeland Security Branch.
All Princeton Public Library programs are free and open to the public. Special assistance is available for library customers with disabilities. Those with special needs should contact the library 48 hours before any program to arrange for accommodations. For more information on library programs and services, call (609) 924-9529, or visit www.princetonlibrary.org.
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