Confronting H1N1: in flew the flu

Now that the swine flu, pig flu, H1N1 is at my workplace’s back door, I’m feeling philosophical about the whole thing.

Yes, many people suggest the media and everyone else is blowing it out of proportion.  Yet history shows that flus can quickly wreak havoc on society; 1918 flu, anyone?

I don’t have a fever yet.  I’ve only been in limited contact with someone who might have it, though I still have this small panicked voice in my head reminding me young healthy adults died from flu complications during the 1918 epidemic that covered the globe in an entire season, and this was before commercial jetliners flew all over creation.

I’m a young healthy adult.

Cytokine storm.  Mean much to you?  Well unless you study viruses or have an in-depth knowledge of these things, it’s a fairly meaningless phrase.  Basically, it’s what happened during the Spanish flu: the immune systems of the strongest individuals in society ended up killing them.  Victims died with goopy lungs, because it was a period before antibiotics, corticosteroids and other modern tools of the medical trade.

Nowadays we do have antibiotics.  And other medications that can help with the adverse effects of influenza, as well as respirators that can help mitigate the effects of goopy lungs.

Yet these tools may be useless in the event of a huge pandemic of a virus that may mutate its way into deadly virulence.

Someone I know likely had pig flu in the late 1980s, which is an oddity as it was in the 1970s that the pig flu scared everyone into thinking 1918 was being repeated.  But what is frightening is that this person, in their 20s, nearly died from pneumonia after contracting pig flu from god knows where (obviously an isolated case.)  They spend weeks in the hospital, and a long time recovering.  Very like 1918’s cases.

Obviously the risk for healthy individuals to fall prey to H1N1 is there, as real as ever in 2009 despite our medical advancements since the First World War.

Fall will tell us if 2009 is a repeat of 1918.  There are many cases being reported throughout Nova Scotia now.  By the time children get back in classes in September, and people begin staying indoors more, this flu is apt to sweep across the world like a wild fire.

But what is most scary about the whole scenario is that in 1918, when spring’s few cases flared up in the fall in what was probably a mutated form, the flu turned deadly for 2 to 20 percent of the population.  As high as one in five people died from the fall outbreak.  And many of them in the prime of their life.

What does this mean for us?

It means we could be facing a global crisis that hasn’t been seen in over a hundred years.  Or it could be a dud like the crisis of the 1970s.

My thinking is that if I get the flu this summer, it might be a good thing.  A good thing?  Well, if you get it now in its mild form, it may prove beneficial if the H1N1 virus mutates and becomes a killer.  Anyone who fights off the mild strain may in fact get immunity for life against this particular flu.  Not that it’s a guarantee: nothing is.  But considering vaccines are not popping out of the woodwork for this flu, personal immunity could be a huge benefit.

Of course, as I try to tell myself, I’m in a good place.  I’ve had the vaccine that’s thought to prevent against pneumonia, which is usually what makes the flu deadly every year, and in pandemics.  I’m young, and healthy, and I wash my hands.  I get as much sleep as I need, and I eat reasonably healthy.  I don’t have a compromised immune system.

But still, I worry.

Not for me.  Though I do worry about orphaning my two gerbils.

But for those out there in Third World countries without proper medical care at the best of times.  For those who are old, and young.  For those who have suppressed immune systems, like those receiving transplants or harbouring AIDS.

H1N1 is going to show the world not only what we’re made of, but what countries have access to the best health care, and have the best contingency plans for disasters.  It will open up the eyes of the Western world to an age-old killer, something that has previously been ignored by so many.

In essence, H1N1 is going to show people how much they care about those around them and the world as a whole.

I know that driving home yesterday, as the clouds soared over my sunroof, it felt good to be alive.


One Comment Add yours

  1. Julie Veinot says:

    I’d like to report that everyone at MBS is feeling well and non-feverish! So it looks like we’ve dodged a bullet, and with lots of hand sanitizer, we’re ready to battle any wayward virus! Take that H1N1.

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