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Amid tweetstorms and some international threats, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced weeks ago that it would present a workshop called “Public Health Response to a Nuclear Detonation” in which the agency would attempt to educate first-responders, doctors, and officials to begin planning for the unthinkable: a nuclear attack on American soil.

Last Friday, just four days before the workshop, a more-pressing health situation caused a change in plans. The seasonal influenza had reached widespread levels of activity throughout most of the country, so the workshop was instead changed to “Public Health Response to a Sharp Increase in Severe Season Influenza.”

But that was before the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency alerted thousands on Saturday that ballistic missiles were on their way inbound to the islands.  

For more than a half hour, people took to social media trying to find shelter or hide from the supposedly incoming swath of destruction. Accounts abounded of people saying final goodbyes to their loved ones by phone.

Thirty-eight minutes after the alert was sent, the state agency tried to pull back, announcing it was a false alarm.

Anger replaced the fear, especially when the state officials announced it was “human error” on the newly-revamped system that triggered the half hour of public panic. The alert system had just been updated last month – resuming a nuclear attack warning siren test for the first time since the end of the Cold War. By many accounts, a nuclear-armed North Korea would be able to reach the Aloha State with its current arsenal of missiles – and tensions with the United States have reached a new peak over the last several weeks.

The CDC previously held a nuclear attack preparedness session in 2010.

But it appears the CDC will still go forward with the flu topic as part of its Grand Rounds at its Global Communications Center.

“To date, this influenza season is notable for the sheer volume of flu that most of the United States is seeing at the same time which can stress health systems,” they announced. “The vast majority of this activity has been caused by influenza A H3N2, associated with severe illness in young children and people 65 years and older.”

Statistically, flu may be the surer choice. Every year, some 36,000 people die of the flu in the United States alone. And while at least 130,000 people died in the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings that ended World War II in August 1945, there have been no nuclear attacks in the 70 years since. (Some groups contend that the radiation produced by Cold War nuclear testing have caused more than 1 million deaths from the 20th century onward).

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