Saturday, May 02, 2009

"Everybody Loves a ... Pandemic?"

Ah, there's nothing like a nationwide health panic to distract the common Dick and Jane from their everyday frustrations and dissatisfaction. Only two weeks ago we were all up in arms over Washington spending and over-paid, under-performing executives getting million dollar bonuses for driving their companies into the toilet.

Today... today we are mostly up in arms about the local Wal-Mart selling out of paper masks and face shields, or the fact that the guy sitting five feet from us won't cover his mouth during his endless coughing fits.

Sometimes I feel that the human race has the attention span of a nervous kitten -- one second we're all chasing the jingling fuzzy ball across the floor and the next we're craning our necks (ears rotating about like satellite dishes) to determine the cause of a horn honking five miles away.

Of course, our bi-polar mainstream media outlets do much to perpetuate the chaos and unrest. On one hand, they tell us that over 200 people have DIED in Mexico from the H1R1 virus, affectionately known as swine flu, and that thousands are currently afflicted. On the other hand, they tell us that all we have to do is wash our hands and cover our mouths when we cough. Entire school districts are closing left and right as infected students are detected (sometimes two or three students at a time) yet we have no cause for regulating our borders more closely because health officials still have yet to determine how dangerous this particular flu strain is or how it is spreading from person to person.

And don't think our current administration isn't also demonstrating schizophrenic behavior in this state of confusion. They are.

"This is obviously a cause for concern and requires a heightened state of alert. But it is not a cause for alarm.” (No. 44, April 27th)


"I would tell members of my family, and I have, I wouldn’t go anywhere in confined places right now. It’s not that its going to Mexico, it’s that you are in a confined aircraft when one person sneezes, it goes everywhere through the aircraft.” (Biden, April 30th)

Hey, America, here's a clue: it's the FLU. It may be a different strain than what many of us get inoculated against every November, but that doesn't make it any more threatening to public health. We don't panic and close down school districts every time a few students present with traditional flu-like symptoms. Or chickenpox. Or Tuberculosis, for that matter. What do we do? We send the infected children home to share their ever-loving germs exclusively with their own family members. And that's generally (and historically) all we do.

"But swine flu has already killed hundreds in Mexico and one child in Texas!" you may protest. Yup. You're right. But the more common strains of influenza (and pneumonia) kill, what, 36,000 people in America every year, doesn't it? (Or at least according to information from the CDC, it does.) And isn't it always funny how quick the press is to throw these frightening statistics out there, while failing to explain to the honest public just how the flu virus kills all those people? They don't reveal that these fatalities are most often due to complications brought on or exacerbated by the flu. A previously healthy woman contracted swine flu in 1988 and died 8 days after being admitted to a hospital. But, before you gasp in horror, know this: she died of pneumonia. Not from the swine flu, itself (though her body tested positive for H1N1 virus), but from a secondary infection. (And you know what? Hospitals are notorious for being breeding grounds of secondary infections. They're like singles bars for cooties.)

Most of the people who die after influenza infections also suffer (prior to exposure to the flu) from chronic diseases or illnesses. Asthma, pulmonary disease, congestive heart problems, diabetes, or weakened immune systems, tend to increase the mortality rate in more common strains of flu...because the health of the victim is already compromised. It is for that very reason that flu vaccines are, in years of shortages, reserved first and foremost for people who fall into those categories. If you are more at risk for complications, then it is more highly recommended that you get a flu vaccine to prevent said complications and the potential for death.

Typically healthy individuals may catch the flu, miss a few days of work, and eventually recover as though nothing ever happened to them. It's uncomfortable -- or, more honestly, miserable -- but not deadly. And, chances are, the same is true of the swine flu.

This is not the Ebola virus, America. This is not the end of life on earth as we know it. It's the flu. Most people who contract it will be fine. I repeat: YOU WILL BE FINE. Life will go on. The human race will continue to prosper. (For now.)

Now, if you do suffer a chronic illness that compromises your immune health, by all means be extra cautious. Carry hand sanitizer with you at all times and use it obsessively, avoid being around people who are sick or coughing (especially if they have a fever), and be sanitary. Wash your hands. Clean counter tops, doorknobs, pulls, handles, and anything else you and other people tend to touch with disinfectants such as Clorox or Lysol. Avoid large social gatherings if they aren't necessary, and just use common sense.

As for the rest of you healthy individuals out there who are buying up all the face/dust masks at Wal-Mart or Home Depot while begging your doctors to write unnecessary prescriptions for Tamiflu and Relenza so that you will have your own personal stockpile just in case your throat gets scratchy... CHILL OUT! Put the masks down! Or, better yet, hand them out to the people who may actually need them: asthmatics, diabetics, heart patients, or other chronic disease sufferers. You can count it as your non-deductible charitable act for the year. Your one good deed.

Oh, and another thing. For all of you who use public restrooms and walk straight from the toilet stall to the exit door: wash your damned hands, you filthy freaks. Ugh.

However, with the nationwide hysteria over what could soon be deemed by the WHO as a level 6 pandemic, I will admit there are some advantages. With all this unwarranted panic, a lot of people are opting to board themselves up in their homes to avoid exposure or infection. And do you know how that helps me out? Traffic. This morning I actually drove the 40 plus miles from home to my monthly staff meeting for work...and I never once had to slam on my brakes or idle in bumper to bumper gridlock. I made it to the meeting on time. Nice.

America, it's looking to me like pandemics may be our environmentally friendly answer to traffic-related pollution. How do you like them apples?

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