As H1N1 Flu Spreads, Researchers Rush to Analyze Strain

JUDY WOODRUFF: Much of the surveillance and tracking of this outbreak is being managed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. Our health correspondent, Betty Ann Bowser, spent the day there to see how it's being done.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: This is the CDC's Emergency Operations Center. It's a frenetic sea of activity for tracking cases of swine flu worldwide, a 24-hour-a-day hub.

Toby Crafton manages the center.

TOBY CRAFTON, U.S. Centers for Disease Control: These are folks from all across the agency representing different functions that we need to — to conduct a response.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: What other agencies are represented in this room?

TOBY CRAFTON: There are several other agencies within the federal government that we represent here. DOD is one. We have a Department of Defense…

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Defense Department?

TOBY CRAFTON: That's right, Defense Department liaison.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Why are they here?

TOBY CRAFTON: Because they've got a lot of people around the world that could potentially be exposed. And for national security, their health is important.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: What happens at this bank of computers and all these folks along here?

TOBY CRAFTON: Our operation center is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.


TOBY CRAFTON: Any time, 24/7, 365 days a year. And so these folks are here all the time. And when a call comes in from a state health department, sometimes we get calls from physicians, even citizens, they call — our number is posted on the Web site.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: What kind of questions are coming in? Or what kind of calls are you getting? Give me an example of something that might be coming in from Europe, let's say, or from some place, let's say, Denver, Colorado.

TOBY CRAFTON: Well, they may have a suspect case, and they want to know what they need to do. They may ask clinical questions, which we don't answer here. We pass those on to the clinical teams that we have standing behind you here.

But it could be a laboratory wanting to know if they — what they should be doing, how they should ship specimens to CDC, where they should send them, and that sort of thing.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: This is where the calls come in first, to a duty officer like Gordon May.

GORDON MAY, CDC Duty Officer: We would put them in touch with the SME, the subject matter expert.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: And if it's a local or state health official who thinks they may have another case of the H1N1 virus, he sends the call to the right desk. Phyllis Nichols is part of the epidemiology surveillance team.

PHYLLIS NICHOLS, CDC: We get international e-mails. We get e-mails from states, from laboratories, from consumers, from our federal partners.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: What kind of things do they tell you?

PHYLLIS NICHOLS: There's anywhere from questions people have about things that they've read on our Web site that they might have additional questions with that we can refer to our epidemiologist downstairs to questions about updates on case counts, case reports, rumors.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Sean Griffiths is part of the same group. He's from the federal Department of Health and Human Services on-site team assigned to the CDC. The team is also like a group of firemen trying to throw cold water on rumors.

SEAN GRIFFITHS, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Because, you know, everybody is experiencing a great deal of stress — we've been working for, you know, days — and so both in the field and here, folks are, you know, under a lot of pressure. And so sometimes just having a voice, a contact, somebody to speak to and just hear them out, sometimes that's part of our job.