Sunday, May 10, 2009

Big issue from a bit ago: the swine flu.

I was a historical fiction nut for awhile as a kid, and so I've consumed more than i want to remember about, say, the plague, or the 1918 Spanish flu. But between recently being somewhat forcibly compelled to watch 28 Weeks Later, and the amount of science fiction about viruses I've read, I'm a little freaked out.

So when this cropped up, I checked out a few newsbites through RSS feeds in Google Reader, but I found they weren't answering one of my biggest questions - how does the swine flu kill?

Side note: this is one problem successful media will solve; how to aggregate all of the information so that all questions are answered. Also something that will put conflicting reports side by side - for example, I read that more than 150 deaths have been confirmed in Mexico, according to the AP, but saw in my skimming a claim that there have only been a fraction of that number.

Interestingly, my question was answered not by any media source but by, a Yahoo answers sort of site. Someone had asked my question and the response explained: The disease kills through respiratory failure. It causes the lungs to swell and fill with fluid. (Read the answer here.) And more importantly, it's virulent enough to incapacitate healthy people.

While regular flu kills around 36,000 each year, those deaths are primarily in the elderly or already significantly ill. The unfortunately named swine flu (unfortunate for the pork industry, Israelis, and Muslims, anyway) is able to bring healthy teenagers to a fever of 101 for five days - scary prospect.

I also discovered that wearing a face mask really only helps stop people who are already sick from spreading the disease - not so much prevention from catching it.

So I'll be washing my hands a lot, and possibly investing in antibacterial hand sanitizer (something I normally avoid after hearing a speech on the harm of over-anti-bacterializing a few years ago), and not using public bathrooms.

And not kissing anyone. Sorry, strangers.

No comments: