Are you afraid of the swine flu? Members of Salon's Table Talk community share the fears and the facts.

Published May 1, 2009 10:01AM (EDT)

Health and Science

Flu Mania: How are you dealing?

Aspidistra - 06:13 am Pacific Time - Apr 27, 2009

Swine flu seems to be spreading in North America, with the fatal cases concentrated in young adults. What are you doing to prepare and protect yourself?

I'm not panicked about this, but I am going to have a discussion with the family about hand washing and other hygiene issues.

On a societal level, I think we have been preparing for a flu pandemic for a while. Now we have a chance to see how well those preparations are going to serve us. I'm cautiously optimistic.

thatsheila - 07:16 am Pacific Time - Apr 27, 2009 - #3 of 171

Strangely, this is the first time I've been really worried about one of these pandemic hysteria. In the last year, I've had Lyme, pneumonia, a nasty GI bug, and a truly horrible sinus infection. It seems like no matter what I do, I get everything that comes my way, and I never get a touch of a cold, but go straight to bronchitis or pneumonia.

It's terribly selfish, and probably sounds mentally unhealthy, but the first thing both my husband and I thought was, if this really spreads, I'll get it.

SG - 07:37 am Pacific Time - Apr 27, 2009 - #7 of 171

I was researching the 1918 flu epidemic fairly recently, and the thing that makes me nervous is these types of pandemics tend to have a fairly small outbreak followed by a much more dramatic one. For example, there was a relatively small, milder outbreak of "Spanish" flu in spring of 1918 that preceded the dramatic, vast and deadly outbreak that followed in fall/winter of 1918.

So actually catching it now in its milder form might be protective against a later outbreak.

I'm most worried about my daughter, who at age 2, still puts lots of things in her mouth (including her hands after touching things that are highly questionable). Yeesh.

Aspidistra - 07:53 am Pacific Time - Apr 27, 2009 - #8 of 171

My grandmother was 10 years old at the time of the 1918 epidemic. Her entire family of five children and two parents got sick at the same time. Everyone survived. Her brother was only 3 months old, and she said she didn't know who managed to get up to take care of him or how they did it. They lived on a farm in North Carolina with no close neighbors, but "the little black boy" from down the road who helped around the farm set a bucket of water and firewood next to their back door every day. One of her parents must have gotten up to retrieve it. Somehow they got through it.

Laura Margaret - 01:47 pm Pacific Time - Apr 27, 2009 - #14 of 172

The lab where I work does contract stuff for the NIH, and we have federal e-mail addresses, get stuff from HHS, etc. So far today we have gotten three e-mails from the company safety guy about the flu, one email from the federal government on how to detect and avoid somebody with the flu, and one URGENT email recalling the previous message on detection and avoidance. Methinks somebody jumped the gun with that last one and they are afraid of starting a panic.

We are also supposed to be doing some Gallup poll and they want 100 percent  participation. Five e-mails about that today (and one on Fri). Obviously Gallup is more important than swine flu!

Michael Castellano - 06:44 am Pacific Time - Apr 28, 2009 - #21 of 172

Media like CNN are already spreading panic across the country, with their breaking news "DEADLY FLU OUTBREAK" banner seen frequently on their screens.

The truth is, no one knows at this point precisely what this new flu strain will cause in the way of deaths across the globe, but it is definitely spreading and appears likely to become a pandemic as no real measures are being put in place to stop it from spreading except in Mexico.

Thus, the policy of the U.S. government seems to be to let it enter the general population because short of shutting the country down, there's no way to stop it.

This is a big mistake, I believe, as while the spread of the illness is probably unstoppable, more aggressive measures could reduce the number of people getting infected.

Chief among the methods to reduce the spread would be closing schools and canceling all large public gatherings and events. but they won't because of the economic consequences.

I suspect that NYC will go the way of Mexico City in another two or three weeks as new cases are cropping up all over the place here.

thatsheila - 07:08 am Pacific Time - Apr 28, 2009 - #29 of 172

I had a terrible GI bug that went through my son's preschool like wildfire about a month ago (and, according to my campus health center's Web site, was also prevalent on campus) followed, a couple weeks later, by several days of fever/achiness, culminating in the worst sinus infection I've ever heard of. I've wondered if some iteration of this month of sickness might not have been an early version of the current flu we're talking about.

I live in NC, and there are a lot of pigs here, as well as people in the community who work in the pig plants. Is anyone here conversant in the connection between high-density pig production and the development/spread of this?

nigelx - 08:25 am Pacific Time - Apr 28, 2009 - #36 of 172

Many people have jobs which do not offer paid sick days, so that people come to work sick because if they don't work, they don't get paid. I certainly did that when I was young and working temp jobs. It would be nice if an official would suggest not only that people stay home when they are sick, but that employers provide some kind of monetary compensation, if not a full day's pay, at least for people who actually have the flu.

Aspidistra - 08:34 am Pacific Time - Apr 28, 2009 - #37 of 172

A lot of big companies constructed contingency plans after 9/11 and SARS, figuring out ways to keep operations moving by having people working from home or transferring operations to other centers in areas not affected. Those could be invoked for this, but the bulk of the workforce will not be covered. As nigel says, many people will go to work because they lose money if they don't. This very thing has probably contributed to the spread within Mexico.

Nina Katarina - 09:17 am Pacific Time - Apr 28, 2009 - #42 of 191

You know, if someone is convinced that this is going to become a pandemic, the most sensible thing would be to go out and get yourself infected now. Hospital staff is mostly healthy, so there are folks around to take care of you, and the mortality rate outside of Mexico has been low. And getting the flu now will give you antibodies for the next two or three years Anyone know a carrier who'll come give me a kiss?

mayberry - 10:46 am Pacific Time - Apr 28, 2009 - #49 of 191

Oh dear. A germaphobe here in the office has now chased a coughing co-worker (allergy season here) down the hall, exhorting him to wash his hands, go home, or "Here! Use the hand sanitizer for the love of God!" I do not believe he was joking. I'm afraid to sniffle or cough myself ...

Scheduler - 07:03 am Pacific Time - Apr 29, 2009 - #59 of 198

Can I just panic a wee bit here? A friend of mine is in Cancun on a travel agent fan trip. She just posted on Facebook that she thinks she has pneumonia or bronchitis or something.

ACK! I just want to shake her! She's got two tween girls at home and is supposed to come home tomorrow.

Thryn - 07:28 am Pacific Time - Apr 29, 2009 - #65 of 198

I spoke to someone high up at the CDC Influenza program yesterday, and she said that right now, there's no actual scientific evidence that anything is traceable to pigs at all. It's not strictly a "swine flu," even -- it's got genetic material from avian flu, Eurasian swine flu, human flu, AND North American swine flu. So it's highly doubtful it came from a pig farm. Also, even if they find this virus in those pigs, the transmission could have been in the other direction -- humans TO pigs.

The biggest issue is that it's a novel virus. No one has any immunity to it, that we know of, and if it gets to the point where people are dying, it may be too late for mitigation. Texas, at least, was tracking it and starting pandemic preparations before the news of the Mexican cases came out.

thatsheila - 09:22 am Pacific Time - Apr 29, 2009 - #74 of 200 

Also (and correct me if I'm wrong here) those 36,000 people tend to be old, very young, or sick to begin with, whereas this one is killing (in Mexico, so far) young and healthy people, too. 

Raspberry - 09:23 am Pacific Time - Apr 29, 2009 - #75 of 200

Egypt is slaughtering all their pigs. Makes no sense at ALL. Pigs no longer have anything to do with this -- it is human to human transmission, from a virus that mutated by a friendly exchange of genes in the creation of offspring of some combo of swine flu, avian flu, and human flu. A parent called DH's command center to ask whether her kid could have so-called "swine flu" because he kissed a pig at a petting zoo. No, definitely not. If he has swine flu, which thank God he doesn't, more likely he got it from kissing a person who works at the petting zoo who just came back from Mexico.

DesertDog - 09:49 am Pacific Time - Apr 29, 2009 - #83 of 200

Personaly I find all the paranoia about avoid Mexico to be to a little pointless. Given how closley the U.S. and Mexico are linked such an endeavour is a total waste of effort. Right now I can look out my office window and spot at least four cars with Mexican license plates in the Wal-Mart parking lot across the street. At least 50 percent of the people that I have daily contact with on daily basis have been to Mexico in the last month. Given the flow of people across the U.S./Mexico border it is meaningless as ba arrier to stopping the spread of swine flu.

Scheduler - 10:15 am Pacific Time - Apr 29, 2009 - #87 of 200

Friend has updated her Facebook to say that she has no fever and has seen the hotel doctor, who thinks her coughing is a reaction to something in the air conditioning in the hotel, and not flu. Phew!

Aspidistra - 10:37 am Pacific Time - Apr 29, 2009 - #90 of 200

I hope that the biggest long-term effect from this epidemic is that a) people will take pandemic flu seriously and b) there will be money put into developing new vaccine manufacturing methods. We can't respond quickly to any flu epidemic, swine or otherwise, because it takes so many months to grow the vaccine. There doesn't seem to be the political will or capitalist interest in using some of the innovations in vaccine development for a mass-use flu vaccine.

canuckmer - 11:03 am Pacific Time - Apr 29, 2009 - #92 of 200

There's been quite a bit of news coverage here in Canada about how the SARS epidemic put the fear of God into our public health organizations, and so far it seems that there have been lots of positive changes since then -- new roles, better communication, faster coordination. So even if this doesn't materialize as a major pandemic, organizational changes can be valuable for the next time.

tippytoes - 04:20 pm Pacific Time - Apr 29, 2009 - #103 of 200

I have to admit to feeling some concern about this, largely because any kind of flu scares me because of my having an autoimmune disease (type 1 diabetes) and thus being compromised from the start. I'm in excellent health and work hard at taking care of myself and being safe (always have been a dedicated hand washer), but the fact that this is something that no one has built up any immunity to is really scary.

Thryn - 04:34 pm Pacific Time - Apr 29, 2009 - #105 of 200

That's why it's important to follow instructions about avoiding mass gatherings. If they keep it from spreading, we'll all be safer.

Might it turn out not to be a big deal, regardless? Sure. But since we don't know, it's best to err on the side of caution.

Not panic, and everyone doesn't need to wear a mask at all times or anything.

But don't go to big crowded places like festivals, wash your hands frequently, avoid physical contact with other people (don't shake hands, or hug people or kiss, outside your family). If someone in your family has influenza-like symptoms, call the doctor. If you're a close contact of a confirmed case, take the antivirals.

If your kids' school is closed, keep them home. Don't send them to stay at friends' houses with other kids or put them in daycare.

Christine E. - 12:04 am Pacific Time - Apr 30, 2009 - #109 of 200

Three known cases in the Seattle area, where I live, and three  more elsewhere in Washington State. I work in academic public health and the epidemiologists I know are watching carefully but not freaking out. We've been doing lots of pandemic planning for the last five years or so (yep, most of it funded by the Bush administration), and we just went through a simulation exercise with state, local and university people a couple of months ago. It does comfort me that a lot of resources have been and continue to be put into dealing with such a crisis.

Laura Margaret - 06:46 am Pacific Time - Apr 30, 2009 - #119 of 201

On a more lighthearted note, my coworker was watching the president's speech last night (where he talked about the importance of hand washing and covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze) with her 3.5 year old. Her son has apparently decided that since the president told him to do it, he will listen and apparently remembered to cover his mouth when he sneezed and then got up and washed his hands without being prompted. Coworker has decided that he must realize that the president is much more important than his mommy or daddy!

enidjane - 09:32 am Pacific Time - Apr 30, 2009 - #132 of 201

I'm as worried about the swine flu as I am about any other flu.

Three people in my life told me that they might have it today. None were remotely sick. This is getting ridiculous.

Kalinakka - 09:57 am Pacific Time - Apr 30, 2009 - #137 of 201

I am supposed to take my yearly trek to Oaxaca toward the end of next month. I have been in contact with friends there. There have been some flu cases although as far as the people I have talked to, no deaths yet (there are rumors). A lot of tourists are leaving and many people who were coming have cancelled. The people who depend on the tourist industry (and there are lots of those in Oaxaca -- everyone who works in hotels, of course, tour guides, taxi drivers, also a vast number of the craftsmen and artists who are one of the main reasons to visit Oaxaca) will be suffering if they are not already. The town was rebounding from a really bad slump a couple of years ago from the civil unrest -- demos and street fighting -- which scared off tourists and more or less shut down the city for several months.

I love Oaxaca and my friends there, and as of now I'm not cancelling the trip. I'm hoping things will have shaken out a bit by the end of next month and I can see more clearly what is going on. If my trip was scheduled for right now I think I'd go anyway, U.S. government warnings or no. I think my main concern would be that I normally take Mexicana and  transit to Oaxaca through Mexico City and I'd have to spend an hour or so in the chaos of Mexico City airport. However I think there may be another route: Continental to Houston, then a flight to Vera Cruz, then to Oaxaca. I hate the Mexico City airport; I'd been thinking of alternate routes anyway.

Ashe - 12:59 pm Pacific Time - Apr 30, 2009 - #148 of 202

So, my husband called me as he went home sick from work this afternoon. He feels like crap and has a fever of 101. He's trying to get an anti-viral from his doctor's office.

I'm wondering how concerned to be. My 2-year-old has breathing issues (he goes in for formal asthma testing in June) and I have an autoimmune disease that's been flaring the last couple of weeks.

This is the first time my husband's been sick enough to miss work since November 2006.

Mrs. Magoo - 03:43 pm Pacific Time - Apr 30, 2009 - #154 of 202

There has been a confirmed case of the H1N1 virus at the elementary school connected with my DD's preschool. The county/CDC has closed the schools for a minimum of seven  calendar days or until further notice.

Not freaking out yet -- the elementary school and the preschool share minimal common space (the gym, but definitely not bathrooms), so I doubt DD was exposed to the kid. It seems we may end up being quarantined-by-default: DH just called to inform me that the YMCA (where I get my only respite from SAHM-ness during the week) has closed their childcare to kids from the school. It's going to be a long week ...

Editing to clarify that they haven't closed all the schools in the county -- just the elementary and preschool affected.

Michael Castellano - 06:06 am Pacific Time - May 1, 2009 - #173 of 203

One thing that many of the so-called experts have been saying that is actually medically inaccurate is that people have no immunity to this new virus. What we don't have is pre-existing protective antibodies, but we do have variable amounts of natural resistance and varying abilities to overcome the virus if infected.

Washing your hands at home is fine, but doing it in a school bathroom or public bathroom, for example, may NOT be a good idea.

Nina Katarina - 06:15 am Pacific Time - May 1, 2009 - #175 of 203

It is a good idea to wash your hands, public or private. Just take precautions. Wash your hands, leave the water running, take the paper towel and use it to turn off the faucets. Use that same paper towel to open the door. Hands washed, very few new germs added.

I've got a laptop, a library and a cupboard full of chicken soup. Come and get me, flu.

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