Skepticism

Afternoon Inquisition 5.4.09

Hey, have you heard about this swine flu thing? No? Oh, you’re funny.

It seems like there reactions to the H1N1 fall into two categories:

  • Holy shit! Panic!
  • Shut up already. Who cares?

I saw a survey on the Chicago Tribune website that asked, Are you worried about swine flu? And the options were yes or no. I thought that was a little unfair. Isn’t there a middle ground? A point where we take it seriously but not freak the fuck out?

What’s your take on the H1N1? Are you freaking out? Are you telling people to shut the hell up? Are you at least washing your hands? Or are you coughing and sneezing into people’s drinks and wiping your boogers on old people and cancer patients?

Elyse

Elyse MoFo Anders is the bad ass behind forming the Women Thinking, inc and the superhero who launched the Hug Me! I'm Vaccinated campaign as well as podcaster emeritus, writer, slacktivist extraordinaire, cancer survivor and sometimes runs marathons for charity. You probably think she's awesome so you follow her on twitter.

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50 Comments

  1. I can’t believe the attention this thing is getting. I could care less about it, and I fully intend to care even less about it. I work in a pretty liberal and progressive agency, so we are kinda smart. No one here is freaking out but you wouldn’t know it by watching the local news on the teevee,

  2. It is interesting to a certain level, as it gives light to what could happen with a more serious outbreak (deadlier, more contagious).

    In a probably very perverted way, I also find it fascinating that a pandemic can happen at anytime, relatively quickly. Makes me wonder if I chose the wrong carrer path (I daydream about being a virus hunter, what ever that actually is).

    I don’t think panic at this time is necessary.

    Also, I couldn’t understand why the name swine flu would be offensive to jews or muslims. It appears to be a strain commonly found on pigs (or did I misunderstand this part?). It’s not like the name implies they have to touch the unclean animal responsible for carrying the virus. Is the word “swine” unclean too?

  3. What’s your take on the H1N1?
    We had to have some news item that would get the incredibly depressing news from Pakistan off the front page. Paranoid? Naw…:)
    Are you freaking out? Never had the flew, seldem feel bad at all. must be all those Jalepenos :)
    Are you telling people to shut the hell up? No just ignoring it.
    Are you at least washing your hands? Always have been a hand washer.
    Or are you coughing and sneezing into people’s drinks and wiping your boogers on old people and cancer patients? Only on weekends, everyone needs a hobby.

  4. I’m not freaking out, but I’m glad that the appropriate authorities (WHO, CDC, etc.) are aware of the problem and monitoring it. It’s a genuine threat, as any disease outbreak is, but there’s no point in panicking or wearing masks on the subway.

    I thought Joe Biden’s response was a bit daft (Don’t fly! Stay off the subway!), for instance. But the attention given to monitoring the spread of this is appropriate, since it’s not covered by existing vaccines. It probably won’t, in the end, be worse than the seasonal flu pandemic, but it will (and already has) resulted in additional deaths that add to the annual body count from flu.

    As Mike the Mad Biologist has been pointing out, when a virus jumps the species gap like this it’s hard to say where the virulence equilibrium in the new species lies. It could get less deadly. But it could get more deadly. Only close monitoring will tell, and that’s what the relevant authorities are doing.

    The idiots saying we should close borders and stop flying are, well… idiots. But that doesn’t mean we can afford to ignore the possibility of a swine flu pandemic entirely.

  5. Something that at most 10% of people exposed to catch and at most 1% of those people get seriously ill? No. Not high up on my worry chart.

    We are in prime allergy season out here so I’ve been sneezing more than usual. I have figured out how to make my sneezes sound quite piggy: Achoink!

  6. I am giving the flu a lot of caution and a healthy amount of respect. As of right now, I don’t think that there is a lot to worry about, but it seems to be spreading very fast, and judging by Mexico, it can be fairly lethal if not treated. I think the masks and whatnot are silly, but I’m glad the WHO and CDC are watching it. Not panicking yet, but I’m not going out of my way to hang out with sick people either.

    What really frightens me is the thought that somewhere out there Randal Flagg is cackling with glee.

  7. I’m almost ranted out about the whole swine flu, but since you asked…

    What’s your take on the H1N1? Generally I think there is little to worry about. I’m not a biologist, but I do have a pretty good understanding of probabilities and a disease that one has a 1/3,000,000 chance of having, and a 1/300,000,000 chance of dying from (if you live in the united states, with its modern medicine) is not something we should concern ourselves with too much. However, I do realize that the CDC is taking this seriously and because I assume that they have a number of highly qualified scientists working for them, I’m willing to admit that it is *possible* that I’m wrong.

    Are you freaking out? I almost freaked out last week when I was driving for 2 hours straight, didn’t have any CDs, and every radio station was talking about the swine flu. I just about went berserk.

    Are you telling people to shut the hell up? Often, but that is normal.

    Are you at least washing your hands? I always wash my hands at the recommended times: after using the bathroom, before handling food, after handling raw meat, generally whenever my hands are dirty. I do it because it’s a good idea to wash your hands; it’s the best way to prevent the spread of disease, including the kinds that are actually a threat.

    Or are you coughing and sneezing into people’s drinks and wiping your boogers on old people and cancer patients? Of course I am. I’ve been doing this for as long as I can remember.

  8. I am not freaking out. I can understand some people being concerned — like my friend who’s child has leukemia. The flu (ANY flu) could be deadly for her. So obviously I understand her concern.

    But there’s no need to freak the fuck out. It’s good that WHO, etc., are taking precautious “just in case” but I really, really hate how the media is treating this. It’s like crying wolf. Will people be as receptive to a real dangerous pandemic?

    Plus, people are now running to the ER every time they sneeze. Arggghh, that just makes things worse!

    I am not doing anything differently.

    Also, I am craving bacon LIKE CRAZY. Anyone else?

    Oh and pork chops.

    MMM PIG.

  9. I can see why there was initially a lot of concern about it. When several otherwise-healthy young adults die of the flu in a short period of time, it raises a red flag. The 1918 outbreak had a similar pattern.

    On the other hand, people seem to be over-reacting in inappropriate ways. Airlines are practically giving away tickets because no one’s flying. And pork prices fell because some people think they can get sick from eating it.

    Me, I’m going to stock up on bacon and spare ribs.

  10. Actually,

    I’m asking people to sneeze into my food. Thereby, allowing me to build up my immune system.

    Remember: “That which does not kill us only makes us stronger”.

    Remember also, that the jackass who said that killed himself (no, not KW, he only had one good song IMO and that wasn’t it…I was referring to the Neech).

    Hey you! The sickly looking person leaning on the counter. Yeah. Sneeze on my cheese burger please.

    Thank you!

    rod

  11. In an average year the flu kills about 35,000 people in the US. That’s not an insignificant number and that’s an average year. A pandemic strain is more virulent (meaning more people infected) so even if the percentage of people killed is the same the number of deaths would be far higher. Not to mention the strain large numbers of patients would have on hospitals and economic loss due to missed work. That’s just putting things into perspective, we don’t take flu as seriously as we should under normal circumstances.

    Am I panicking? Absolutely not. We don’t know yet whether this will be a pandemic so I’m in wait and see mode. However I have no intention of ignoring it because if it does become a pandemic there are people in my family right now with compromised immune systems (mom is a cancer survivor, my brother and his wife are expecting a baby at the end of September, my grandmother is 85, etc). I don’t think society is going to crumble since it didn’t in 1919 and they didn’t have modern medical care and were just coming out of a World War that killed nearly as many as the pandemic.

  12. @Steve: I’m wondering if young people were dying because no one has an immunity to it, not necessarily because it’s more dangerous. Anyone know if that is correct or if I’m just talkin’ out of my ass?

  13. And I’ve heard it could come back worse this winter, the next flu season, so obviously it’s good that WHO, etc., are working on it, and creating a vaccine.

    One day we may have a very deadly pandemic, but I don’t really think this is it.

    Speaking of vaccine, it helps we already have a cure/vaccine available. It makes it a lot less dangerous.

    ALSO, I wonder how many people are freaking out and taking Tamiflu without being officially diagnosed even with the normal flu? That could be bad news, wouldn’t it?

  14. We should *always* properly wash our hands, regardless of the most newsworthy pandemic of the time.

    @marilove: There is no vaccine for this strain yet. General antivirals are available, but a specific vaccine won’t be available until at least 6 months from now. There is a great blog called Effect Measure over on Scienceblogs that is following this flu from a very reasoned perspective. It explains about the use of Tamiflu and a bunch of other great information. Check it out.

  15. I’m not worried about swine flu in the least.

    Please note:

    London has been quarrantined, due to a mutation of this virus. They are calling it “zombie flu”. There is no need to panic. So, please, calmly reach for your gun and shoot anything that moves. If you don’t have one, please, in an orderly fashion, break into your nearest gun shop and steal any guns/ammo you can get your hands on.

    Your cooperation is this matter is greatly appreciated.

  16. @marilove: From what I have read, the risk is that we have no immunity, not that the flu is super in any way. So a lot of people may get sick at once, which could burden/cripple the health care system and have negative effects on the already shitty economy.

  17. @marilove: From what I gather, young people are dying from cytokine storms, wherein they’re immune systems overreact to the pathogens. I don’t know if this has been confirmed in the current swine flu not-quite-a-pandemic, but I think it is why the Spanish Influenza pandemic was so deadly.

  18. @marilove: Hmmm.. wow.. so many good thoughts – Like “Yeah, I get hungry for bacon every time the news mentions this too”, and “Chirizo! It’s possibly the only thing on the planet as tasty as Bacon!”

    .. Oh! imagine a cheese and chirizo stuffed, bacon wrapped jalapino!…. Oh hell.. I know what I’m trying to cook this weekend.

  19. I shot my neighbors minature pot bellied pig and then burned their house down. I have sealed all of the rooms of my home and put up quarintine signs out front to keep strangers away. I am changing the filters on my central air system every other day. I make the kids wash in a solution of 3 parts bleach, 1 part rubbing alcohol and 6 parts boiling water every day. We all have to wash our hands every twenty minutes and are all using scuba tanks to breath. I called work and told them I was using vacation time for the next two weeks.

  20. I’m annoyed at how black and white people’s take on it is. I can’t even say “sorry, just swine flu” after every sneeze for a laugh without starting a conversation I don’t care to hear. I don’t know anyone who’s actually on the “HOLY SHIT WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE!” side of the issue, but refusing to eat pork because of this is just ignorant, and it’s curious that people will act in what’s an obvious absence of information.

    The other extreme annoys me, too, because this could have been serious, though it doesn’t look like it will be. There were some signs it might be killing healthy adults. It was a new, unknown strain, that alone deserves attention. There were initial concerns about drug resistance if I recall, but it seems to be responsive to treatment. So, not the end of the world, but it was worth watching. If this had been a serious pandemic, it would have looked exactly the same up until recently. So, people who’ve been saying that it wasn’t worth any attention and was only created by the media are missing the point, though they’re usually correct in that the hysteria is undeserved (hysteria is such a funny word).

    However, I work with many immune compromised people, as well as family, so I’m in the wash your damned hands camp (even if I’m an imperfect practitioner). I especially dislike hearing “I never wash my hands and I never get sick,” yeah, but you smearing your feces on the wall might not sicken you, but it might kill an older person or small child when they pick up something noxious that’s been breeding in a pool of macaroni and energy drinks in your digestive tract.

  21. I’ll admit I was a little concerned at first. The first I heard of it it
    1) Had been upgraded to a 4 on the 6 point WHO Holy Shit Scale
    2) Had been reported in multiple countries
    3) Had killed people in Mexico

    The next morning it was a 5 on the WHO Holy Shit Scale.
    That evening I found I was not driving by rotting corpses lying in the street on my way home from work and stopped thinking about it.

  22. We already wash our hands.

    We are already hermits for the most part.

    My wife already telecommutes and I am already unemployed, so contact with diseased employees is at a minimum.

    So there isn’t a whole lot to do except live our lives like we’ve been doing.

    Oh and I’ve already had my cats trained to kill all swine with in a 300 yd radius of our home.

  23. Last week I came down with bronchitis and laringitis. Everyone who rode the el with me last week hates me; I am amused by them. However, visiting my HIV positive clients in their homes has become hard to justify: I promise I only have bronchitis!

  24. @Kimbo Jones

    Yes,

    A sneeze is a kind of small hear attack, because supposedly your heart stops during this time.

    Thank you for noticing.

    BTW: Did anyone ever tell you that you have the coolest name EVER.

    Just sayin’

    rod

  25. My dad is a doctor, and he’s talked to a few infectious disease docs of his acquaintance. This strain of flu is responding well to antivirals, so they aren’t concerned with the flu, as is. Normal flu precautions (i.e. – washing your hands, not touching your face, etc.) are generally enough to keep this one at bay. They feel that cultural and infrastructure differences are probably to blame for the deaths in Mexico (i.e. – people don’t go to the doctor – by the time you come into the hospital after days of respiratory distress and dehydration, even your generally healthy adult can die).

    The worry is that any outbreak that spreads this rapidly is the risk of mutation. While the northern hemisphere is leaving traditional flu season, the southern hemisphere is entering it. So you gotta worry it will jump down under (as it were) and have the chance to settle in and mutate into something far nastier over the next few months.

    I’m my mother’s daughter. Big fan of hand-washing, antibacterial wipes, removing the comforter from hotel beds, and I feel like the Neti Pot routine is helping as well (keeping things flushed and moving). The only difference now is that people are asking me if I have any extra wipes ;)

  26. I determine my level of freaked-out-edness by whatever Mark Crislip says. Currently, I am not freaking out, but I am ready to go at a moment’s notice. I maintain pretty good personal hygiene, so I’m just going to continue with that and remind people that 100,000 to 200,000 people die every year from REGULAR flu, and to please keep things in perspective.

    Living in western New York, I’m generally prepared for emergencies since we often lose power and have pretty severe snow and ice storms that do occasionally create states of emergency. As a result, I maintain a supply of bottled water, canned fruits and vegetables, non-perishable food items, toilet paper, bleach, etc. just in case I should need it for a storm, or nuclear fallout, or bird flu or swine flu or ladybug flu or whatever should threaten us next.

    So, I’m not too worried and I try to be informative to people when we are discussing it, and I try to be prepared, but I’m not panicking. And we’re having pork chops for dinner tonight.

    But I have been calling it ManBearPig Flu, so as not to offend anyone.

  27. Am I concerned about swine flu? Yes, to an extent, but only as in general concern.
    Am I freaked out and panicking? No, definitely not.

    Most of the cases outside of Mexico have been mild (due to early treatment and better healthcare), and apart from one Mexican girl who traveled to the the US, no-one has come close to dying of H1N1 flu.

    People who go around screaming that the sky is falling without knowing all the facts annoy me though, and I can’t count the amount of times I’ve said ‘No, we’re not all going to die, here’s what’s really going on…’ or ‘No, it’s not the start of the zombie apocalypse…’.

  28. THE SKY IS FALLING THE SKY IS FALLING! O_O
    I’m kind of freaked out, but liking the cheap pork prices. I work for a certain location that has many many tourists through it every day, and some of these guests drag their poor children around when they’re clearly sick. So somebody getting The Flu where I work is not altogether unlikely. And my parents don’t believe in doctors- I had bronchitis for a month in middle school before my parents finally took me to the hospital- and I’m still under their health insurance, and if I’m that sick, I’m certainly not driving myself.

    It’s been more than 120 seconds since I washed my hands, so if you’ll excuse me…

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