swine flu


Two weeks ago, I was laid up for several days with a bout of H1N1, aka the swine flu. I wrote a column about the experience for Ottawa Delivered, but it appeared only in the print edition and was not posted online. (We don’t post everything from the newspaper online so people have a reason to read/buy it.) Now that the column is “old news,” however, it is OK to share it here.

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I came up with a new word last weekend: “swinefluence.”

As in, “under the influence of the swine flu” – as I was recently. But more on that momentarily.

President Obama has declared a national health emergency because of the H1N1 virus – also known as the swine flu – which has played a role in more than 1,000 deaths and 20,000 hospitalizations (and sickened millions more) in America this year.

The high demand for the backlogged H1N1 vaccine has many communities, including Ottawa, playing the waiting game while people anxious to be inoculated nervously hope to avoid exposure to the virus. This means, at least in the short term, there is a greater chance you will catch the virus, so take appropriate precautions.

As an H1N1 survivor, I think it is my duty to share some lessons learned about the swine-flu experience. Or more specifically, what not to do when you are under the swinefluence.

First, full disclosure: Rapid influenza diagnostic tests cannot distinguish between the 2009 strain of H1N1 and seasonal influenza A viruses. The Center for Disease Control reports, however, that more than 99 percent of circulating influenza viruses in the United States right now likely are 2009 H1N1. So there is a less-than-1 percent chance I didn’t have swine flu.

Anyway, now that we’ve gotten that boring disclaimer out of the way, let’s get to the fun stuff:

1. You shouldn’t drive under the swinefluence unless absolutely necessary. Believe me, when you’re in the full throes of H1N1, you won’t be comfortable sitting up straight for more than a minute at a time.

2. If you’re under the swinefluence and a doctor asks you what’s the problem, don’t act flippant or insult your doctor. That likely will result in a one-way trip to quarantine.

3. If you see lights behind you, don’t run. You won’t have the energy and you’ll probably fall flat on your face. Instead, just lie down, close your eyes and the headache stars will disappear.

4. If your doctor has to make a house call to diagnose your problem, don’t refuse any bedside tests. Refusal will only show you’re clearly under the swinefluence and delay the inevitable.

5. If you are bedridden with swine flu, you only get one phone call to tell somebody you’re out of commission. Believe me, if you are fully under the swinefluence, you won’t have enough energy for more than that. Have someone else make your other phone calls for you.

6. If you are under the swinefluence, you probably will be slurring, too, because your energy will be sapped, so don’t bother talking much so as not to leave a bad impression.

7. It’s best to avoid being under the swinefluence if you’re pregnant or nursing. (This tip is true, so let’s get more of that vaccine here already for the people who need to avoid the swine flu the most!)

And finally, a tip for those who didn’t get the swine flu but know someone who did:

Please, pretend to enjoy whatever they wrote about their experience with the H1N1 virus. After all, they may have conceived the idea while still under the swinefluence.

Just four days after a “60 Minutes” piece noted it had been awhile since Vice President Joe Biden made one of his trademark gaffes, Biden’s foot-in-mouth disease flared up while talking to Matt Lauer on NBC’s “Today” show this morning.

“I would tell members of my family — and I have — that I wouldn’t go anywhere in confined places now,” Biden said. “It’s not just going into Mexico. If you’re any place in a confined aircraft and one person sneezes, it goes all the way through the aircraft.

“That’s me,” he continued. “I would not be at this point, if they had another way of transportation, [be] suggesting they ride the subway.”

Et tu, Amtrak Joe?

An msnbc.com story quotes American Airlines spokesman Tim Smith’s response: “To suggest that people not fly at this stage of things is a broad brush stroke bordering on fearmongering.”

Fearmongering might be a strong word to use in this instance because I don’t think Biden meant to stoke people’s fears. But the vice president’s comment was definitely irresponsible. Sick people need to use caution, and healthy people need to use caution around sick people, but that’s really always the case, isn’t it? There is no evidence that riding an airplane or the subway significantly increases your chances of contracting the swine flu — other than the normal increased chance that comes along with being around other people. Studies are ongoing to determine how this strain of swine flu is transmitted, but if it is like other strains of flu, the swine flu is transmitted via infected droplets of body fluids discharged by coughing or sneezing and is NOT an airborne virus. You can’t catch swine flu by simply being in the same airplane or subway car as an infected person.