The ongoing concern that a pandemic is primed to strike the world is warranted in many respects, but some experts wonder if the current situation smacks of the "plague that wasn't" of 1976.

Back then, concerns over a swine flu pandemic - which turned out to be false - led to a nationwide vaccination program that was mired in complications, including 30 deaths.

How does that compare to today?

In 1976, a small influenza outbreak occurred in Fort Dix, NJ, which led to one death and a number of people falling ill.

Scientists analyzed the influenza strain and found that it affected pigs. That was significant because it showed researchers that the situation they were dealing with was entirely different than the common "flu," which affects humans.

To protect against it, a new vaccine would need to be developed.

The avian (bird) flu in Asia is also not the common form of influenza that affects humans.

Adding to the alarm bells in 1976 was that there were biological similarities between the Fort Dix influenza and a 1918 pandemic that killed millions. As well, according to projections, the timing was right for another "expected" pandemic.

Presently, experts are also saying that the world is due for another influenza outbreak and the avian flu does show some mutations related to the mutations of the 1918 strain.

Reacting to ever-mounting public concerns, US President Gerald Ford ordered the establishment of the National Influenza Immunization Program, and millions of Americans were inoculated.

Reportedly, the vaccine led to 500 people suffering from a paralyzing nerve disease. It also was believed to be the cause of 30 deaths. Two months after starting the program, the vaccinations were stopped.

In the end, the 1976 influenza was not a pandemic - it did not spread outside of Fort Dix and was not the virulent killer everyone feared it would become.

While the actions and reactions of 1976 had some devastating consequences, the mistakes of the past have taught us valuable lessons.

For instance, today, wide-scale vaccinations wouldn't likely be given until it is certain that a real pandemic exists. As well, any vaccination program would be closely monitored.

The Canadian government has also developed a comprehensive pandemic plan, available on the Public Health Agency of Canada website at The plan includes prevention activities, surveillance, vaccine programs, and response and implementation activities for controlling the pandemic. It also outlines the different phases of a pandemic and the roles and responsibilities for each level of government at each phase.

Even though hindsight is 20/20 and the swine flu case is now dubbed the "plague that wasn't," experts still emphasize that influenza is a real threat to public health and precautions should be taken.

Written and reviewed by the MediResource Clinical Team