So, it’s only been two days since we first heard about the swine flu outbreak in Mexico City, and wow, how the news has changed. Swine flu (or, most accurately, the swine/bird/human flu) has been identified in several other countries.
Personally, life goes on the same for us. Yesterday, the bars and restaurants on our little street were crowded and noisy. The paleta store next door had its typical steady stream of visitors craving frozen fruits on a stick. We had a terrific Argentinian lunch with friends.
The main differences for me has been:
1. Hygiene: I’m seeing more people in face masks than usual. I’m washing my hands more than normal. I’m not wearing a mask, but I’m also not going out in any crowds (per usual).
2. Icky Facebook: Not fun during a flu epidemic — if there’s any hysteria to be had, it’s on social networks. So, I’m taking a Facebook hiatus for now, since I only use Facebook if it’s fun. My last post was to share this link from Dr. Marc Siegel: The Most Powerful Virus Is Fear Not Flu.
3. Ambivalence. When the news first broke, I had no idea what to think, although life in Mexico never fails to surprise me. I’m still quite mystified by the whole thing — it’s not every day that you find yourself living amid a flu epidemic. But, I am not panicked, I am ambivalent. I do not feel like I am at (or was) at high risk of catching the virus. I also know I have access to excellent medical care if anything were to happen. But I feel bad for the people who have lost loved ones.
4. Annoyance. My two cents: Closing the border with Mexico (I have no idea if anyone is seriously considering this, I just see fear-mongerers proposing this idea online) would solve nothing, but it would be an interesting experiment. It wouldn’t slow the spread of flu: Viruses don’t follow international protocols and stop floating across cramped borders because people no longer are crossing, including viruses that may exist in the border area’s significant wild bird and hog population. But it would slow international commerce on a grand scale and have economic and cultural ramifications no one can predict.
So, yeah, basically life goes on the same.
*Steps on soap box*
Now, for my unsolicited advice. As a person who used to report on diseases as a professional medical journalist (and now edits medical information of a wide variety), I’m acutely aware of the pressures put on journalists from editors and producers to ‘sex’ up a story, to scare the heck out of people.
Keep in mind that this is what’s going on right now, to some degree. And as Dr. Marc’s article points out, even health organizations are not immune to fear, and have sparked useless hysteria by over-reacting and misjudging the situation.
You can imagine how that hysteria is compounded when it gets in the hands of journalists.
But, yes, people are sick and some are dying from this flu. But illness and death is a human universal.
So, as someone speaking from the epidemic’s ground zero, and not freaking out, my advice: The best way to mitigate your risk is read everything with a grain of salt, and educate yourself about the facts. And if you do get sick, follow the recommended steps (included in that link). This post from an infectious disease expert might also help you feel a bit better.
*Steps down from soapbox*
I’m off to enjoy my Sunday in sunny, beautiful Mexico City, folks.