Monday, April 27, 2009

oinky oink

So the latest madness is Swine Flu.

(Good ol' Sandy Szwarc, over at Junk Food Science, has an even better debunking of the flu fears than I have here. Her conclusion: It's not gonna be that bad, people. So, stay calm and carry on, to use a phrase from WWII that has been terribly co-opted of late.)

I really do not know how bad this is going to be. It could be BAD. Some scientists have suggested we're overdue for a deadly pandemic a la the 1918 flu.

But somehow, I get the feeling, having seen the news stories I've seen today, this is not it. This is just the next "Now you will run in circles and scream - dance puppets dance" news story out there.

I think the fact that it came up fast - over the weekend - either means it is not that major (something the networks have ginned up) or it is actually very bad (it hit all of a sudden and they weren't prepared for it). I can't quite get a read on it and that concerns me, but my gut tells me that while it will be a tragedy for those who lose loved ones, it will not be a major problem affecting most of the nation. (The deaths in Mexico? No one is saying much about the details of those so I wonder if perhaps those were folks in rural areas with little access to health care - in other words, any bad respiratory thing would have been serious for them).

The one wild card in this, I think, is the idea of the "cytokine storm." Apparently the reason some flus (like the Spanish flu of 1918) kill a lot of young otherwise-healthy folks is that their immune response is overwhelmingly great - more and faster, apparently, than it needs to be, the lungs start to leak, and the person sort of drowns in their own tissue fluid. (I do not know enough about this phenomenon to know whether a good hospital could treat the condition - I don't know, suctioning the lungs? - to prevent death).

I also think the fact that we know a lot more about flu, and about public health, than we did in 1918, will limit problems.

However, on the bad side - I think IF it becomes a major problem, we will be in some trouble, because of Special Snowflake syndrome:

"I don't care if I'm sick! I still need to go to work!"
"Sure, sure, I was exposed. I don't care, I have tickets to fly to Florida and I AM GETTING ON THAT PLANE"
"Contagious? Surely they mean some other person."
"What do they MEAN, don't go out to the movies? It's my GOD-GIVEN right to see first-run movies in a theater"

You get the picture.

I'm a wee bit concerned because I teach on a college campus - where we have students who travel a lot (some to Mexico; we do have some students who are (legal) immigrants), students with kids in day-care, students who work in various capacities (in health care, in the Indian casinos, in other places where they come into contact with lots of other people) and then they come onto campus with all the funky germs and they get spread all around. And in two more weeks it's exam week, so a lot of people are already kind of run-down. (And damn, if this got worse fast? Cancelling exam week? Nightmare, logistically speaking. Though I'd welcome it if the disease actually became a really-real problem).

I have no problem - if the disease got really bad and they did stuff like have us shut down the school - with just staying at home. That's exactly what I'd do - not go out, hole up, because I live alone and as long as I'm not exposed at work (or at church, which would also probably shut down if things got REAL bad), I could stay safe. (I always keep a couple weeks' "normal" meals worth of non perishable food on hand - which could in a real emergency be stretched out to a month and a half or so of reduced-ration meals if I was really worried. I even keep a fair amount of water on hand, because we have an OOLLDD water-treatment plant that can shut itself down unexpectedly).

I'd stay home. I have my books and my embroidery and my quilts and I could be fairly happy.

As for "precautions" for the nonce - not really anything other than what I normally do:

1. wash hands well before eating, and if I'm gonna touch my face (like to put on makeup). I use just plain soap. I don't think antibacterial is necessarily a good idea; lots of studies have shown that proper handwashing with plain soap removes just as many germs. And for people with sensitive skin like me, the antibacterial stuff can actually weaken the skin and lead to cracks or sores - and healthy skin is a good barrier. (And also, you have commensal bacteria on your skin that may just crowd out some of the pathogenic stuff. So I like to let my commensals live.)

2. Taking vitamins. I take a B complex because I've found it helps my mood (there's some evidence that some people absorb the various B vitamins, like B6, poorly, and if you don't have enough, it affects mood). And C, which I started after my last cold. Not sure it helps but I have the bottle to finish out. And I take calcium and D, not that that boosts the immune system or anything, but I have such a history of osteoporosis in my family that I feel like it's a good idea.

3. Eating healthfully. Lots of spinach, lots of fruit, getting enough lean protein. Keeping myself from getting run down.

4. Keeping up with exercise. Again, keeping myself from getting run down, and there's some evidence that moderate (but NOT excessive) exercise boosts the immune system. (I'm not sure of the mechanism - perhaps it revs up the lymphatic circulation. Or maybe it's just general good health)

5. Getting enough sleep as much as possible. Sometimes, I don't sleep well. I have a history of insomnia. But I try. I've also been told (no idea if it's actually TRUE) that even just lying in a dark room and being quiet, even if you don't actually sleep, helps the body some. (Not as much as sleep. But it's better than running around bouncing off walls or watching endless re-runs of old sitcoms because you can't sleep).

and finally, 6: Not watching lots of stupid news coverage designed to make me freak out. Because freaking out too much is bad for the immune system. (Even if there aren't any hard studies "proving" that, I'm quite sure it is).


The Fifth String said...

So I like to let my commensals liveIndeed. Not good to kill the good.

Also, and I'm surprised at some who push antibacterials, the flu is viral. Antibacterials don't help that, but simple washing does.

OTOH, there are a few who take it TOO far. I think there's some truth in the idea that your immune system needs a workout too. That's way to simplistic, I know, but I suspect there's some truth to the hypothesis that our (historically) excessive cleanliness these days has led to more autoimmune issues and allergies.

The Fifth String said...

On that "immune system needs a workout" theme: Funny how I read this just this evening too.