Saturday, October 3, 2009

Swine Flu - A Season of Magical Thinking

“So why do you think they’re telling people that we should sneeze into our sleeves, like this?” I ask a young woman leaving the Duane Reade pharmacy cum superstore on Madison and 102nd Street.
“That’s to save for the environment” she pops back. “To use less paper. You see?”
“Excuse me, Sir. Is there anything you plan to do to prepare for the swine flu this season?”
“Well, gotta see what it winds up being. Right now I’m just using the hand cleaner stuff instead of soap and water. So we’ll see if that does the trick.”

And to a woman in midtown, rushing back to the office balancing a half-eaten slice of pizza and coke - “How concerned are you about the swine flu this season?”
Oh! Are they still worried about that one. I thought they said it’s no big deal anymore.”
Since last spring there’s been no lack of information. Has all this information - guidelines and recommendations resulted in some magical thinking? I can only use my own experience as evidence that this is happening.
When you chase down a Wikipedia defintion, you see that “Swine influenza is endemic in pigs.”
Pigs - But all these years I thought cooking pork to a glistening whiteness was enough.
Medline Plus clarifies.
Earlier forms of the H1N1 virus were found in pigs. Over time, the virus changed (mutated) and can now infect humans.”
Mutant viruses - that sounds disgusting! I try not to think back to our parents’ house circa 1958. All those mutant monsters and Japanese speaking scientists.
Far East - isn’t that where a lot of these viruses get their debut? Xenophobia - shame on me!
My logic tilts appreciably. So this mutant virus is from pigs. But pigs are safe to eat and not sick. So does that mean, we humans are just the next victims in the virus food chain?

Prodded on by the straight up New York Post headline -
Swine flu could kill 90,000 Americans.
I google the Mayo ClinicThose steady, sure Midwesterners. But the site adds to my distress by implicating a host of new creatures.
The outbreak of what is popularly called swine flu involves a new H1N1 type A influenza strain that's a genetic combination of swine, avian and human influenza viruses. It can spread from human to human.
So is the 2007 bird flu passé?
My neighbor says she’s still worried about the pigeons in the park - hasn’t brought stale Thomas’ English muffins out there for months.
“But we don’t, bed down with them - the birds, I mean. “I read bird flu is a problem in Asia where people live in close quarters with their flocks - of suspect birds.” I suggest having lost my competent intellectual veneer somewhat.
My neighbor shakes her head. “Who you gonna believe?”
Did scientists simply lose their compass? Spend too much time in the lab?
Perhaps, if we just hold out long enough until these viruses peter out?
I go to work. Merciful, unambiguous work.
“If you See Something Say Something” irreconcilably juxtaposed with the tacit agreement that you should never, at all cost, notice or linger too long on someone in your field of vision.
No one is sneezing into their arm. Not a one.

Maybe they’ll start giving out “sneezing citations”. Imagine that. “8000 commuters were fined this morning in separate episodes of failure to sneeze hygienically.” A new type of civil society… I daydream.
So one night, I go there. What if I get the swine flu - H1N1. Or my kids get it?

What if the sneezing into the sleeve, the hand washing, the air kissing all fail? I fail?
Was it for lack of wearing the facemask at the dinner table?
Wasn’t I instructed clearly on the CDC website:
Wear a facemask – if available and tolerable – when sharing common spaces with other household members to help prevent spreading the virus to others. This is especially important if other household members are at high risk for complications from influenza.”
I let my mind run wild now. We’re sick. I’m sick.
Google Health is there to tell me how to prepare a “sick room”
“Keep the sick person in a room separate from the common areas of the house. (For example, a spare bedroom with its own bathroom, if that’s possible.) Keep the sickroom door closed.”
Just when my thoughts are racing …..I read in the NY Times:
“Defying the expectations of experts, clinical trials are showing that the new H1N1 swine flu protects with only one dose instead of two, so the vaccine supplies now being made will go twice as far as had been predicted.”
A vaccine against the H1N1 virus will be effective with just one dose and within 8 to 10 days of being taken. The US government confirms, on most TV news. Kathleen Sebelius, the Health and Human Services Secretary, said that the vaccine is working quicker. And in fact adults may just need one shot, not two.
But wait. So maybe they’ve got this one all wrong. An epidemiologist’s Kohoutek. ?
While walking the dogs in the park this morning a fellow dog person was saying -
“ My niece in Delaware is sick. They don’t know if it’s swine flu or, what’s that other thing?…..Lyme disease. Farm country down there. Thank God we’re in the city.”
I’ve just come into my building and the doorman hands me a small package - “From 8H he says.” When I get upstairs I see it’s a bottle of garlic oil from my organic friend with a note: “Heard you were going a bit oinky!”
sit down with the papers and my laptop, momentarily disenthralled with the notion that more is better.