Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The "Piggyfly" Effect

In early April in La Gloria, Veracruz, Mexico, near the "manure lagoons" on a giant pig farm, 4-year-old Edgar Hernandez gets the swine flu. Today on the other side of the continent, an entire community closes it's schools for 10 days.

Talk and hype of this new Swine Flu has already made more people sick of hearing about it than those who have actually been afflicted by the virus. Even with the historically recent epidemics of the Asian flu, Hong Kong flu, SARS, and the Avian flu, I never thought that such an outbreak would ever effect or disrupt my life as this swine flu has. Being a perpetual "hand washer," "sneezer into the crux of my elbow," and being around so many surgical masks (unfortunately), my family has always done our part to keep germs at bay, going so far as to steer clear of annoying neighbors. In fact, I thought that being a teacher and being exposed to the communal germs brought to campus by the students of various hygiene habits actually increased my immunity against infections in much the same way allergy shots are designed to work.

I've rejoiced (silently) when school closed down for a day or two because of a couple of ice crystals on a bridge. These rare moments were an opportunity to frolic with the kids without the serious risk of breaking the flow of obligations. But a school closing for 10 days because of an unknown, morphing strain of influenza virus? "Never will that happen! That's movie fodder!!" "When pigs fly," I thought. But now it's official: "Pig's flu!" Who knew?

Ten days is an awfully long time, just long enough to get used to new habits, like sleeping in until 6:30 a.m., actually eating breakfast, laying around in lounge shorts, delegating chores to my children ("Tate, come press this button on the remote control for me"), watching "Days of our Lives," and updating your status on Facebook. But with an incubation time of 5 days, the mandated "vacation" was chosen to span two incubation periods, and also because it coincided very nicely with a Monday return.

With over 150 deaths in Mexico from the H1N1 et al strands already, and the first confirmed death in the U.S. just this morning, no precautionary measures are being spared. Until health officials get a firm grasp on what this virus really is and how to contain it, taking measures to avoid a massive outbreak via social settings makes sense, although I can already picture large groups of students gathering on their "break" to tube the river, play volleyball, and study math.

Those who are already tired of hearing about this piggish, piddly flu (the same types of people who stay put to ride out hurricanes, volcanoes, tsunamis, and a busload of Jehovah Witnesses in their neighborhood) draw attention to the 30,000+ deaths in the U.S. each year due to the common flu. What they fail to realize is that the common flu is, how to say it . . . , more COMMON than the swine flu. An estimated 50 million (that's 6 trailing zeros before the decimal, infinitely many beyond it) Americans contract the general flu each year. That comes out to a mortality rate of 0.06%, miniscule really. Of those that fall into that unfortunate percentage, they are likely to be those with weakened immune systems, such as infants, elderly, those with respiratory disease, and those who have spent 10 consecutive days indoors on a couch watching "Days of our Lives." As of today, the mortality rate for this new flu is at 2.6%, with 66 confirmed cases in the U.S. alone, 6 of which are in Texas. Like a rattlesnake with Turret's syndrome and buck teeth, this isn't something anyone wants to mess with.

Now that the "swine flu" has entered into the vernacular, more people with symptoms are being diagnosed. There are hundreds of potential cases currently pending, and people are scrambling to purchase items they think will protect themselves. Drug stores are selling out of surgical maskswhile making all the news stories appear to be at first covering a Michael Jackson Fan Club Convention. Although is is doubtful whether the masks provide any real defense against the swine flu, it is making the surgical mask making companies rich. Look for designer colors and styles to hit the shelves at your local department store soon.

So the reality is that because of a small boy in Mexico (who's made a full recovery), I've got an unexpected 10-day sabbatical that I get to spend with my own children. Although it complicates things, one should never let a world-wide health scare go to waste. The kids and I will make the most of our time off. Perhaps we'll start with a little arts and crafts activity: pimping our homemade swine flu masks.


LC said...

Swine '09 is a pain in my behind.
My brother (visiting from CA), Sydnie and I will be at 2 Rivers Coffee at 9:15am Thursday. Why don't you bring the kids and we can congregate.

Brenda said...

We ran out of insect repellent here a few weeks because of the dengue mosquito thing - now people are inventing repellents. Last I heard you can mix baby oil, alcohol, and some herb and the insects won't getcha.

I'm sure Tate is great at pushing buttons! You should be proud.

I want to be at 2 Rivers... :(

bob s said...

Wow 2 weeks off just a month before school is out. Bet this throwing a monkey wrench into the system. Hope coffee was good.

Vinny M said...

AP exams are still on. are we gunna review still on monday? haha