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CDC postpones session on ‘preparing for the unthinkable’: a nuclear blast

An atomic bomb explosion (U.S. Air Force/AP)
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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has rescheduled a teaching session on the public health response to a nuclear blast that was to take place Tuesday.

The session was to feature presentations from U.S. experts on public health preparedness and response and radiation, including one titled “Preparing for the Unthinkable.” It was planned months ago as part of a regular series of monthly webinars the CDC called Public Health Grand Rounds, officials said.

But media interest in the topic was unusually strong, given the escalating tensions between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and their most recent war of words over which leader has the larger nuclear arsenal and bigger “nuclear button.” About three dozen media outlets had expressed interest in attending the session, which is broadcast from CDC’s headquarters in Atlanta. The initial CDC announcement featured a photograph of the distinctive mushroom cloud from a nuclear blast.

On Friday afternoon, the agency said it was changing the topic to influenza and took down the mushroom cloud photo and the announcement about public health responses to a nuclear blast.

“With the spike in flu cases around the country, this Grand Rounds will provide key and timely information for public health professionals on how to reduce the spread of seasonal flu in communities and adjust to spot shortages in antiviral drugs because of high influenza activity in some areas,” the CDC said. “The previous public health topic will be rescheduled for a future Grand Rounds.”

Public Health Grand Rounds are held to give the most up-to-date, scientifically accurate information to clinicians, researchers and others working in public health.

CDC’s initial announcement about the originally planned topic had described the session like this:

“While a nuclear detonation is unlikely, it would have devastating results and there would be limited time to take critical protection steps,” the CDC website noted. “Despite the fear surrounding such an event, planning and preparation can lessen deaths and illness. For instance, most people don’t realize that sheltering in place for at least 24 hours is crucial to saving lives and reducing exposure to radiation.

“While federal, state and local agencies will lead the immediate response efforts, public health will play a key role in responding.”

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