Back in February I posted this article describing the H1N1 (Swine Flu) pandemic which swept the world in 1918, killing (according to most modern estimates) at least 50 million and possibly as many as 100 million people.
I did not dream that swine flu was even then about to erupt in Mexico City. I feel that it is my duty then to inform my friends at BC of what to worry about, what to watch for, what to do, and what the GOOD news really is.
First, the H1N1 virus is extremely virulent. Someone can be contagious for a day or more before showing any symptoms at all. The virus can be spread by sneezes or coughs, and can survive at room temperature on surfaces such as doorknobs, computer keyboards, etc. Even worse, there are some who are contagious who never become ill or show any symptoms at all — they unwittingly become modern-day Typhoid Marys.
In other words, chances are we will ALL be exposed sooner or later. That doesn't mean we'll come down with the swine flu — it just means we'll be exposed.
What to do? Everyone's telling us to wash hands, cover our mouths, et cetera, and that's all well and good. But anyone who shows any flu symptoms at all needs to get his butt to the doctor ASAP! Enforce this among your friends, families, and coworkers! This is especially true for the young and strong men and women who might want to tough it out, because the H1N1 can cause a cytokine storm, wherein the body dumps every available antibody and white blood cell into the lungs to fight the disease, and the victim essentially drowns in his own body's response to the swine flu.
Remember, in 1918 some of the highest mortality rates in America came from Army camps, among the young, strong, and athletic men there. This is not something to 'tough out'.
Additionally, if you do come down with the swine flu, once you begin to feel fine, do not get out of bed and go back to work. In 1918, there were many, many cases of otherwise healthy men and women who thought they were over the swine flu and got up to go back to work — and then the quiescent virus would strike again, harder, with often fatal consequences. Once you feel fine, stay in bed another three days; I'm not kidding!
And here's the good news: the 1918 H1N1 influenza came in two phases. The spring phase, like this one, was serious and widespread, but it really wasn't that big of a deal. In the fall, however, the virus mutated and brought about that "deadliest four months in human history." Chances are the virus will not mutate as it did in 1918. I repeat: chances are the virus will not mutate as it did in 1918! However, we still need to be alert to that possibility.
But that's not the best news. What is the best news (yes, I'm a glass-half-full liberal!) is that if we are infected with this springtime swine flu, we stand a far better chance against it if it mutates and returns this fall; that's what happened in 1918: those who came down with the swine flu in the spring were much more resistant to the flu that returned in the fall.
But I'm not telling you to go get exposed. Don't do that! Chances are we'll all get exposed anyway. Just make sure you know the symptoms and how to respond, and how bad it can get.
One more note: I don't think it's paranoid to be prepared, because society and all our services could break down temporarily until this virus runs its course. Today I'm going to the Commissary and get a few hundred dollars' worth of groceries, particularly those with a long shelf life.