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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Column: Suppress the urge to do the dirty with Babe

Ever since going online, I can’t help but notice I haven’t been showered with the overwhelming volume of praise I used to receive bi-weekly. Either this means that the Grinnell community has finally had enough of my self-indulgent, nauseatingly detailed accounts of medical atrocities or that no one reads online columns. Seeing as I am wonderful, I assume the latter.

So, lonely reader, I’ll cut you a deal. Walk up to me sometime in the next week and tell me the grossest fact you can think of, and I’ll give you a hug. Actually, I suck at hugging, so this really isn’t much of a reward, but consider yourself appreciated anyway.

For the very first time my column is going to be about something relevant to your lives, and may actually be of some practical value. But you still shouldn’t hold your breath—unless you live in Mexico City, in which case you should probably hold your breath as much as possible to avoid contracting swine flu.

Officials there are very, very concerned and are commanding previously friendly Mexicans not to kiss or shake hands with one another. To illustrate the severity of the situation, The Guardian has this sad picture of a couple trying to kiss through their surgical masks. It’s like “Phantom of the Opera” meets “Scrubs.”

My favorite part about the picture, though, is that the girl’s scrunchie matches her mask. She is managing to avoid a pandemic and still look good. Rock on, mamacita, rock on.

According to the World Health Organization, 159 people have died from severe pneumonia caused by a “flu-like illness.” This influenza-mimicking infirmity has since been labeled the unflattering “swine flu” due to its possible origin in pigs.

Pigs seem to be the farm equivalent of an Erlenmeyer flask, and can act as a “mixing vessel” where different types of flu can mingle to get new strains. Once a new strain has been created, pigs can spread the flu to humans through a process called “zoonotic infection.” Swine flu, the illness caused by the zoonotic infection, is called a zoonosis—which sounds like the name of a great drink. I think it would go well with cocktail weenies.

Which are safe to eat, as flus are spread via the respiratory system, not meat. Think about it—when have you ever gotten sick from eating human flesh? Never, right? Case closed. Just don’t make out with a pig who has the sniffles and you’re golden.

Should you be unable to suppress the urge to do the dirty with Babe, or travel to a growing number of places where the disease is becoming a problem, Tamiflu is your friend. It is the brand name of the drug Oseltamivir, and is one of two anti-viral medications (the other is Relenza) which can both treat and prevent this particular strain of flu virus.

Normally we worry about preventing and treating the flu in the very young and very old, who have the wussiest immune systems and will drop dead at any little provocation. But in Mexico, they are seeing lots of cases of swine flu in people between the ages of 25 and 50, which Wikipedia claims is the hallmark of a pandemic-type infection.

The WHO agrees. They have a scale of pandemic-icity which they use to rate how nervous the public should be. It was explained by the Washington Post in the form of a logic puzzle. The Post tells me that the WHO raised the threat level from 4 to 5, which is one level below full-scale plague, which I take to mean that we are 5/6 of the way to the apocalypse.

The gist of it, though, is that no one seems to know how big of a deal this is going to be. Remember avian flu? Huge disappointment. Right now, people are worried about how unusually deadly the swine flu has been in Mexico, but this could have a lot to do with the level of health care available to most Mexicans, since the cases outside of Mexico have been much more mild.

Confirmed cases have popped up in the U.S., New Zealand, Israel and Scotland in people who have recently traveled to Mexico, including a whole group of Catholic high schoolers returning from spring break. How’s that for punishment for your sins? Fifteen “Hail Mary”s is looking pretty good now, huh kiddies?

Schools have been shut down in Mexico City and in some of the most affected areas in the United States, but in general the precautions against swine flu seem to be, essentially, “Don’t go to Mexico.” It is, however, the government’s job to get ready for the potential shitstorm ahead, so they have a “strategic stockpile” of Tamiflu, presumably locked in a vault somewhere. It is being slowly doled out to the places that need it most in hopes that the outbreak can be contained.

But they don’t have an unlimited amount. So obviously the only logical course of action is to get sick first. Go ahead, take a weekend trip south of the boarder, go hogwild (literally!) and come back with a fever, headache and nausea. Oh, and threaten to sneeze everywhere. Obama will hook you up with some of the good stuff, I’m sure of it.

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