Ah Choo

Some people say all men are pigs but I disavow all knowledge of swine flu.

My friend Towse wrote about the hype hype HYPE surrounding the swine flu.

“There is always some flu around and flu is always killing some people,” Towse wrote. “Even when a raw mutant flu manages to kill off more people than a shooting-war, flu has never ravaged whole cities as cholera or the Black Death can do. As awful pandemics go, flu is like the snotty-nosed little sister of awful pandemics.”

As of April 26, there were just 20 confirmed cases of Swine flu in the United States.
California, 7 cases. Kansas, 2 cases. New York City, 8 cases. Ohio, 1 case. Texas, 2 cases.

That said, the swine flu hype is probably justified.

Everyone in the medical community fears a rerun of the 1918-19 influenza pandemic. To put it in the computer terms we all understand, “It’s not a question of whether your hard drive crashes but when.”

I came to know more about the 1918-19 pandemic through Vermont Poet Laureate Ellen Bryant Voigt’s narrative poem, Kyrie, This sequence of persona poems connects different speakers by their location in the pandemic. That epidemic killed more than 30 million people worldwide. Some of Ms. Voigt’s narrators “seem related to one another and form a kind of community. It was an amazing devastation,” she said, “encouraged by World War I. The movement of troops made it easy for the virus to spread.” The name Kyrie (pronounced KEER-ee-aa) is from the Greek meaning “Lord.”

The 1918 pandemic was better known as the Spanish flu. That bug killed more than twice the number killed in World War I.

CDC reports that the current “viruses contain a unique combination of gene segments that have not been reported previously among swine or human influenza viruses in the U.S. or elsewhere… It is not anticipated that the seasonal influenza vaccine will provide protection against the swine flu H1N1 viruses.”

The H1N1 viruses are also unique in that, having jumped from swine and birds to humans, they now make the jump from human to human. Modern air travel means they can travel to all corners of the world in days.

Today, the World Bank announced that there is not enough money on hand to underwrite treating a “simple” flu pandemic across the third world.

I had not planned to address the swine flu. After all, it’s not as if there isn’t already enough coverage. This is not a “little boy who cried wolf” issue. It is really a newspaper science versus real science issue. Even if this particular influenza outbreak peters out instead of pigging out on all our peeps, it’s not a question of whether there will be a pandemic but when.

Men cope better with emergencies if they practice practice practice their response. I hope they practice well on this one.

CDC reminded us of the everyday actions people can take to stay healthy:

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hands cleaners are also effective.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread that way.

And, perhaps most important, avoid close contact with sick people.

4 thoughts on “Ah Choo

  1. A friend of mine said she was running a high fever, had chills, ached all over and was coughing. She called her doctor and asked her to call in some Tamiflu at the pharmacy because she obviously had the flu–of some kind or another.

    Her doctor’s response was, “It’s not flu season, you can’t have the flu. I’ll call in something for a virus.”

    One of the last things I learned before I washed out of pre med and became a car salesman was that the flu is a virus.

    So, when I hear physicians and CDC scientists pontificating about pandemic/epidemic diseases and how they are spread I often think what a bunch of crap.

    The black plague of Europe finally played itself out after thinning the herd, my cat’s ringworms stop growing when they reach a certain self-limiting eschelon, and Magic Johnson is still alive 20 years after he got HIV.

    So, this could be different?

  2. Most diseases that we know about so far are self-limiting. The question becomes this: how much ought we thin the herd before reaching the limit?

  3. Remember when Ebola (and it’s slightly less certainly fatal cousin, Marburg) was the panic du jour?

    While Ebola is certainly nothing anyone wants to catch, because it’s a rather gruesome way to die (and die thou shalt), it really was never in line to be a pandemic. It’s really a fairly unsuccessful virus, in terms of spreadability. It’s quite fragile, and only survives in body fluids, so can’t be effectively spread by surface transmission, as can most rhinovirus or influenza virii. It also survives only within a pretty narrow temperature range, basically within operating temperatures of mammals. It also kills its hosts so fast that most of them never had time to spread the little germ to more than a couple of others, and many expired alone and, by the time anyone found them and came into contact with the bodily fluids, the virus was already dead because the host was dead and cold.

    Panic, panic, panic. ‘Twas all the rage in the ’80s or whenever it was (time is starting to blur a bit)

  4. Swine flu worries have driven South Florida’s meningitis scare right off the news.

    A rare strain of meningitis has killed four and infected eight others here since December.

    The W135 strain is so rare that health officials believe there is some connection between the 11 victims. All the W135s here are biologically identical. “Patient Zero,” the first victim to come down with it, became ill in December but has since recovered. Epidemiologists don’t know where Patient Zero caught it.

    Meningitis is a lot more dangerous than the flu. The W135, which accounts for only about 3 percent of all meningitis strains, can kill within hours of symptoms.

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