Tuesday, May 5, 2009

"When Pigs Fly" Flu Fact Check

Free Clipart Picture of a Flying Pig Wearing Goggles. Click Here to Get Free Images at Clipart Guide.comI'm back at school today after a lovely four-day weekend. Late Thursday night an email message went out to everyone on campus saying that a student had been diagnosed with a flu that looked suspiciously like what the papers are calling the "swine" flu, though technically its a swine-avian-human flu, more properly called the H1N1 virus. With both swine and avian flu aspects to it, I like to think of it as the "When pigs fly" flu.

The diagnosis came through Monday: yes, it was the H1 N1 virus, the student is doing fine and is recovering, and no one else on campus appears to have any similar symptoms. There are several students in the nearby school district who have the flu, so the schools are all shut down this week. One case ended up in intensive care for a short time, but the student has returned home and is recovering.

The nice part? Having a break that was not a holiday and did not involve holiday obligations gave me a chance to catch up with all my grading, get a little gardening done (in between torrential downpours), and get some quality knitting time in. I wish we had a little break like that in the middle of every term. If we were on semesters, we would. Darn quarter system!

Were the shut-downs an overreaction? Maybe, maybe not. In a small university like ours, a swift shut-down was possible and may have kept the virus from spreading. I don't think anyone wants to be the university president, school district superintendent, mayor, governor, etc. who could have stopped the spread of a nasty flu -- and didn't.

What's so scary about this flu? Don't people die from the "normal" flu every year? Yeah, that's so. Most of the victims are the very young (babies and small toddlers), the very old, or the immune-compromised. We know the modus operandi of the "normal" flu. The H1N1 flu bears the genetic hallmarks of avian flu, the kind of flu that killed so many otherwise young, healthy people so devastatingly quickly during the 1918 epidemic. That's the bit that has everyone nervous. We don't know if this flu will turn into something that virulent.

Still... there's a lot of silliness going on about the flu.

No, you can't get swine flu from eating pork. The virus can only exist outside of a living body for a couple of hours.

No, it's highly unlikely you'll get the flu from a Mexican restaurant.

No, you won't get the flu from being around Hispanic people.

No, it's not a "Mexican" flu. In fact, there's suspicion now that there are two points of origin: one in Mexico, and one in California, suggesting that there are at least two similar viruses going around.

No, it's not Mexico's "fault." In fact, Mexico has been highly responsible, responding swiftly and getting the information out to the world.

No, "closing the borders" isn't something we can do right now to "solve" the problem. It's not like "the border" is a door that you can just close and some careless person has left it open.

No, it's not a [insert political party of your choice] plot to cover up [insert favorite conspiracy theory]. We don't really have the technology to engineer pathogenic viruses.

Face masks aren't nearly as effective a flu preventative as staying away from close crowds and washing your hands frequently.

The current known facts about the H1N1 virus are on the Centers for Disease Control website, here: H1N1 Flu and You

And now, in the spirit of livening up a pandemic as well as promoting some knitting fun, I give you the Swine Flu Masque.

Also, with the word "flu" all over the place, I can't seem to get this bit of childhood doggerel out of my mind:

A flea and a fly were caught in a flue.
Said the flea to the fly, "Oh, what shall we do?"
Said the flea, "Let us fly!"
Said the fly, "Let us flee!"
So they flew through a flaw in the flue.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled knitting.

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