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You can learn a lot from a little pandemic

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The doctor who would become the Canadian face of pandemic prevention was struggling to appear calm while under attack at a parliamentary subcommittee one year ago this week.

Chief public health officer David Butler-Jones was being grilled by MPs over the agency's handling of the listeriosis food contamination outbreak, but he had bigger worries on his mind when his BlackBerry started vibrating.

Frank Plummer, the top scientist at the National Microbiology Laboratory, had put the public health watchdog on high alert after his counterpart in Mexico reported a mysterious outbreak of a respiratory illness and asked if Canada could run an analysis.

"What she described was pretty alarming," Plummer recalled Monday. "My initial thought was this would be another SARS."

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