The Thin Red, White & Blue Line

Friday - 5/1/2009, 4:00am EDT

Civilian and military members of the federal family are on the front lines (in schools, hospitals, labs and security) in the battle against swine flu. These are the people at the sharp end of the spear.

We're talking about you!

Individual national governments and outfits like the UN and the WHO differ over whether it's an outbreak, epidemic, or pandemic. People are getting mixed signals and advice about important but basic things like whether to use or avoid public transportation!

For what it's worth, the World Health Organization says it is an H1N1 pandemic. That doesn't sound good.

Whatever it is, it appears to be getting worse. And getting closer to home for many of us. According to several news reports President Obama, while in Mexico, came in contact with an individual who died the next day "from symptoms similar to flu."

Clearly, there is a lot we don't know, but need to learn, about the outbreak-epidemic-pandemic.

So how are folks on the front-line taking this latest (possibly very serious) challenge? We asked, and you answered. Here goes:

Mike, I think you confuse the term pandemic with ultra, ultra serious. As I understand it, pandemic just means it has spread to more than one country. Remember 35,000 people die every year in the US from the flu. World-wide 250,000 die from the flu. Hopefully this will not rise to that level. You might want to do a column to help us readers understand what is real about this flu and what is a myth. E.G. You can't get "swine" flu from eating properly cooked pork. Bob L.

Good point! Definitions vary, widely in some cases, on the difference between an epidemic and a pandemic. None are particularly comforting. For instance:

Merriam-Webster dictionary says a pandemic is "occurring over a wide geographic area and affecting an exceptionally high proportion of the population" while a medical definition on MedicineNet.com says a pandemic is "an epidemic (a sudden outbreak) that becomes very widespread and affects a whole region, a continent, or the world." But I digress...

Next month I will celebrate 35 years of federal service, and thanks to entering my career at a very early age I will still have 3 years before I can retire. I've always had an office job that would require me to respond even in emergencies. It's part of what you sign up for when you work for the nation. No matter what, the government can't ever completely shut down, right? Living in the south, we spend half our time in hurricane season, which means the potential of having to hunker down in place or more likely evacuate. During Katrina my agency continued to operate from several cities across the U.S., for an extended period. Many other agencies did the same. Equipped with laptops and cell phones, many worked from hotel rooms, home kitchens, and some even from the back seats of their cars as they traveled. This was a workforce where approximately 75% had lost their homes and everything else they owned! Government employees are an extremely loyal group. Keep the power grid up, and we'll find a way to keep the country going! Sign Me: Loyal Long-Term Fed

...I suspect more people died of old age over the weekend also. Let's stop old age. I'm all for that! :) Rita, U.S. Postal Service

Nearly Useless Factoid
by Suzanne Kubota

With this weekend's Run for the Roses to look forward to, you'll note that no horse has a name longer than 18 characters. According to MentalFloss, spaces and punctuation marks count. My personal favorite name in the race is Chocolate Candy, mainly because the colt's breeder is Jenny Craig.

To reach me: mcausey@federalnewsradio.com