August 27, 2009

The H1N1 Blues

Beth and I are creatures of technology. On most evenings, you'll find two laptops sitting open in the kitchen while we're doing watching TV. We'll occasionally check - check mail, check sites, check headlines - because we are both addicted. Earlier in the week, we both managed to check at the same time and we read, slightly hysterically, the same headline at the same time.


That'll get your attention. And after reading it, I got that horrible, sinking feeling, that helpless feeling like I got when all I could do was listen about the stock market tanking and wondering how it was going to impact me. Like I got when I got home on 9/11 and realized that there was actual video of the Twin Towers falling, something that hadn't even remotely occurred to me. And, the more you keep reading, the worse it gets, since the first line of the report is even more sinister than the headline, especially to parents:

The H1N1 flu virus could cause up to 90,000 U.S. deaths, mainly among children and young adults, if it resurges this fall as expected, according to a report released Monday by a presidential advisory panel.

Um, mainly among children? That's pretty much the worst thing an article could start out with. The only headline that could be more horrifying is:


But even then I could buy an arsenal of shotguns and baseball bats, hide the kids in the basement and kick some zombie and Lohan ass in an effort to protect my family. How am I supposed to protect them from the flu?

I'm not a sky is falling kinda guy. But I'll admit, this one has me a little nervous.

Are you worried about the flu, is this media hype, or is the truth somewhere in between? And what do you plan on doing in anticipation of a fall flu season?

Posted by Chris at August 27, 2009 6:14 AM

I'll admit, it's not a happy picture. Then again, anywhere between 40,000 and 65,000 people die of flu in a normal year (the difference comes in if you use flu numbers or flu/pneumonia numbers). So yes, swine flu might be bad. It might be slightly more than twice as bad as a normal flu year.

So ask yourself this: Do you know anyone who has died of flu? Do you know anyone who knows anyone who has died of flu? Did you even realize so many people died of flu every year?

I think it's right to be a bit worried, but even double a small percentage mortality is still...a small percentage mortality. Easier to say, of course, when it's not my kids I'm worried about.

So worry, take precautions, be a good dad, and just try to anticipate what horrible thing we're all going to be whipped up into fearing next year.

As for me, I'll be getting a flu shot in the second wave here because I'm not considered highly at risk, being an otherwise healthy 31 year old. All of the at risk folks are getting the first round of vaccine to make sure the people that really need it get it. But hey, that's what happens when you have a centralized government run health system like the NHS...the people that really need the care get the care. I'll be awaiting the death panels with baited breath.

Posted by: Kerry at August 27, 2009 7:09 AM

Total media hype. I'll be washing my hands just as much as always and getting the flu shot (both, I guess).

Posted by: Stephanie at August 27, 2009 7:20 AM

Just how nasty looking would the Linsay Lohan zombies be? Just a little yucky? Still Lindsay-esque? I think I could live with that.

Posted by: Jon (was) in Michigan at August 27, 2009 7:36 AM

I think it's totally media hype as well, sorry the normal flu kills a bunch of people every year as well but we don't have nightly news about it.

Posted by: Dee at August 27, 2009 7:44 AM

I was a victim of the 2000 flu here in the UK and whilst I am cautious of any flu warning, I'm not going to get in a twist over it. My main concern is not so much the flu as the breakdown of society if this flu were to hit in a big way. During the black death many estimates place the death toll at about one third. That's one in three. Can you imagine what that would do to our modern society? It certainly changed the character of my country dramatically adding the final nail to the coffin of feudalism. Be that as it may. Dont worry Chicken Little, the sky falling in is just bad reporting and spin. A more likely scenario is that most of us have already been exposed to a lesser extent and when it does flare in the winter, it will be the equivalent of a heavy common cold. We'll all take a few days off, a few susceptable individuals will die and the world will continue as normal.

Posted by: Sam Jones at August 27, 2009 7:48 AM

I would get the kids a vaccination against Lohanucleosis, skip the vac on the H1N1 and take a trip to Mexico in the off-season.

Definitely all hype. History shows that with each outbreak of 'swine-flu' the number of deaths attributed to the virus has diminished significantly. Medically speaking, I am not convinced that a vaccination would prevent or even ease any of the symptoms. Coincidentally, the WHO is advising against homeopathic remedies and pushing the vaccine, stating that homeopathic remedies may actually hinder the ability of the body to fight off the virus. On the other hand, report after report from the WHO shows that vaccine trails have not been effective against H1N1 and advise children and the elderly NOT to take the vaccine. Quite a quagmire if you ask me.

I am not worried about it. I am more worried about the exposure to head lice at school; more worried about the school lunches passed off as 'healthful' and definitely more worried about the economy.

Posted by: Angelica at August 27, 2009 7:50 AM

I think this is just the powers-that-be's way of making sure people pay attention. Like Kerry said, the H1N1 flu predictions are a little more than those for an average flu year (up to double, but of a small percentage).

What the PTB have to remember, though, is that alarmist headlines inoculate the great unwashed against future alarmist headlines. What are they going to do when the Really Big One happens? How will they tell us?

Posted by: Katherine at August 27, 2009 7:59 AM

YOUNG ADULTS? Great - so now I not only have to worry about my son while he's whooping it up with the college nightlife I have to worry about him catching and dying from the Swine Flu? Thanks for making my day!
Ok, working in a school I will make sure to avoid kids with colds even more than I do now and also diligently wash my hands between each lunch wave.

Posted by: NancyJ at August 27, 2009 8:09 AM

You know, I should be worried about it, since I have lupus and am "high risk." But I'm just not. I'm not buying into the hype.

Posted by: jodifur at August 27, 2009 8:09 AM

I've never gotten a flu shot and haven't had trouble with the flu. I've never gotten my son a flu shot either. The shots are a real gamble because they are just guessing on the strain. Luckily, we're normally healthy with uncompromised immune systems. I imagine I'd be less cavalier if we had an ongoing illness. I'm sticking with washing my hands, avoiding messy sneezers and eating my veggies.

Posted by: Annie at August 27, 2009 8:14 AM

I'm with you, a little worried. I don't plan on hibernating but I've been all over my kids lately about washing their hands (with soap), covering their mouths when they cough, using tissues, etc.. I'm hoping it is all hype, but being a molecular biologist with a morbid interest in real and fictional pandemics and end of the world scenarios, I can't shake that niggling feeling that all such (so far fictional) catastrophes start out with people having such a blasé attitude. Anyone read The Stand recently. Just sayin'.

Posted by: Elizabeth at August 27, 2009 8:30 AM

Media hype just like everything everyone is trying to get the best story and they are outdoing one another. I have gotten the flu shot every year since I was pregnant in 2004 and guess what? I have had the flu at least 2-3 times during that year. I call the flu vaccine BS and I say this is flu. Flu just like every year that if you do not take care of yourself and your kiddos can kill you.

Posted by: Christina at August 27, 2009 8:44 AM

I am worried. I've had the regular flu 2 years in a row (for reasons I can't explain) and it's been awful. I was planning to get my first flu shot ever this year anyway, but now it looks like I'll need 3. I just can't afford to lose another week out of the year to an illness if I can avoid it.

Posted by: Candy at August 27, 2009 9:02 AM

I think it's somewhere in between. But even so, I'm a bit worried. I'm very glad right now that my daughter is homeschooled.

There's lots of hand-washing going on...

Posted by: Teresa at August 27, 2009 9:08 AM

Unfortunately, the media has created a "cry wolf" feeling for me, since I was under the impression that we were all going to die from swine flu earlier this year. But, I do have a 4-year-old grandchild, 2 children that are young adults and (nearly) 80-year-old parents to worry about, so I am concerned, but not yet to panic stage. I'm sure that will come later.

Posted by: Karen at August 27, 2009 9:16 AM

As a teacher of six and seven year olds that rarely cover their mouths, I am concerned. I've already had kids go home sick, and we are just beginning the 12th day of school. I am sick, my baby is sick, and I'm just awaiting the day my four-year-old gets sick. My husband is a custodian at two different businesses, one of which has hundreds of employees in a nearly air-tight facility. So, my family seems to have a pretty fair shot at getting some type of flu this year. OH...and my school nurses' boyfriend has swine flu.

Being concerned means nearly bathing in anti-bacterial gels, making kids wash their hands in front of me, and sending any kid that might have a chance of being sick to the nurse...ASAP. BUT, we aren't wearing masks yet, so I think we're handling it all fairly well. :)

As for the head lice....OMG, I'm TOTALLY FREAKED OUT ABOUT THAT! YUCK!

Posted by: Wendy at August 27, 2009 9:24 AM

We talked to our doc last week about the H1N1 vaccine. While he stopped short of recommending against it (I think there are some doctor politics involved) he made the point that he has two daughters in college and isn't planning on giving them the vaccine.

I think I get his point.

For the record, I've never had the normal flu vaccine either. Two winters ago my wife and both kids were down hard with the flu. I took care of everybody for a week and still did not get sick.

Posted by: COD at August 27, 2009 9:26 AM

I think it's mostly media hype. I'll get my usual flu shots and then hope for the best.

Posted by: Maribeth at August 27, 2009 9:29 AM

I'm a bit concerned just because of my logistics:
I teach at 2 different university campuses and have medical issues (pacemaker, asthma) that put me at risk with the regular flu. I'm not sure I convinced my students that I'd rather they miss class than get everyone else sick in the class. I guess I'll just wait and see, and get every flu shot they'll let me get.

Posted by: Krush at August 27, 2009 9:39 AM

I think everyone needs to keep in mind that flu vaccinations are meant for those with weak immune systems (i.e: children and elderly) or those that work in professions that directly deal with kids/elderly The main issue with the flu virus is just that - it's a VIRUS. Just last year the shots they gave out weren't any good b/c by then the flu virus mutated into another strain. I think as long as everyone is relatively healthy, you will be fine. I've never had the flu, but I'd rather get it and deal with it than get shot up with a vaccination that will make me sick and then not treat the actual flu it was meant to protect me from. But I do understand that children, elderly folks and healthcare providers should get these vaccinations as they are more at risk of contracting the virus. Just my two cents.

Posted by: Michelle at August 27, 2009 9:42 AM

It freaks me out. It feels like the beginning of The End. It feels like we're living Stephen King's The Stand. My niece was diagnosed with leukemia about 6 months ago. Not that there is ever a good time to be diagnosed, but now, with the worry of H1N1 for her on top of everything else? Some days it feels like too much to handle.

All that being said, we won't do anything differently than we do all the time (wash hands, use antibacterial soap when appropriate, get annual flu shots).

Posted by: Shelly at August 27, 2009 9:46 AM

yes, I'm worried. I'm part of the pandemic planning team at my job so this is at the forefront for me right now. Not to mention my son is starting Kindergarten. I'm stocking up on Purell, antibacterial wipes and all kinds of medicines/tissues, just in case there is a run on them.

Posted by: Jean at August 27, 2009 9:49 AM

Posted by: Karen at August 27, 2009 10:04 AM

I work for a hospital and we get daily updates on our Emergency Protocol. We've even had practice drills. For the flu season. And we also get weekly updates on how "choosing to work in the medical field" means we have to choose to work even when we'd rather stay at home and hide under the bed until it all blows over. I don't know that I'm scared, but I did send a link to Gay Boyfriend the other day that told us what we needed in case the world shut down.

Posted by: k8 at August 27, 2009 10:08 AM

As a schoolteacher, I plan on staying home when I have even the hint of a possible illness. And sending kids home with any hint of illness, particularly respiratory symptoms or fever. You can only do what you can do, I guess.

I'm a little freaked out, but I try to not be a fearmongerer. At least about this!

Posted by: NGS at August 27, 2009 10:37 AM

Sooooooo, Swine Flu. I think the media is really confusing the public. The TV NEWS Media is being all hysterical, in typical over drama fashion, but I do think that the CDC and the medical community is trying to get the message out that for all of the DRAMA OMG IT'S SWINE FLU, the H1N1 strain is actually something that could be dangerous if people don't take it seriously.

That being said, I think if we take it seriously, it will NOT kill 90,000 people in the US. I think if people pay attention to simple ways to prevent sharing germs, stay home when they're sick, take symptoms seriously, then this has a good chance of NOT being a crisis.

This is the first year I'm considering flu shots for all of us, even though the flu shots we'll likely get will not be H1N1 specific (awesome). Lady is the only one in our house who goes to school (the other two stay home with me), and it's a VERY small school with pretty guidelines set up to catch illness and prevent it from spreading, so at least there's that. If there seems to be an outbreak of flu in our area, I'll keep the kids contained as best I can. If they get sick, I'll treat them.

You know?

Posted by: chatty cricket at August 27, 2009 10:51 AM

great to see everyone else is so calm about it.

i am freaking out (on the inside - i'm trying not to look too crazy on the outside, but since you asked...). i have always been fascinated with pandemics (like elizabeth, but without the molecular biology degree) and i think the world is ripe for a big one. i have a two-year old already and i am pregnant right now (currently the top of the at-risk list) and will have a newborn in december. i am so scared that everyone is going to go into this with such a blase attitude and it will actually turn out to be bad and i will lose babies or my husband to the effing FLU. i am not some hard-boiled 1920s stoic! i will LOSE MY SHIT!

i also have fears about the vaccine, as the vaccine that was heavily pushed during the last swine flu in the 70s killed people as well (not to mention my two-year old seems susceptible to vaccine reactions in general). but my family and i will probably be getting it because my instinct is that with the newborn, it would be worse if we got the actual flu.

luckily, i can say that all three of us so far seem to have decent immune systems and except for the pregnancy and age, have no extra-high-risk factors.

but just the other day, my daughter was playing with another pre-schooler at the farmer's market and the other girl kept touching lola's face and getting her face all up in lola's bidness and i didn't say anything because the other dad was right there... but inside i was just wishing he would tell his own kid to stop touching her face. when we got home, my husband and i decided that our current rule of not scolding or directing other people's kids should be put on hold in that kind of situation until this whole thing blows over.

BUT, all that being said, when i saw that same headline i couldn't help having that same old skeptical-of-the-government-even-though-i'd-hope-obama-wouldn't-stoop-to-that thought that this is just his admin's "terror alert level orange" during the current health care showdown.

Posted by: kati at August 27, 2009 10:53 AM

I'm worried. Preggo and due mid-November, plus a 3 year old with asthma in daycare fulltime. My best consolation is that we'll all be ensconced at home during the onset of flu season for maternity leave. No interest in exposing me, my fetus or my boy to the untested vaccine...we don't do the regular flu shot either. I was tempted to line up for it until my OB said "wait and see" and when the DOCTORS aren't sure about pushing it on you, well, I'm not going out and demanding it.

Posted by: rebecca at August 27, 2009 11:34 AM

I think it's a lot of hype.

I work in high schools, and that's a risky environment. Just wash your hands a lot, I up the cleaning at home, etc. A flu when through my work place in April that was really bad, but I didn't catch it and it's the first year I forgot to get the flu shot.

We do keep well stocked up on stuff anyway, so I'm sure we'll be fine.

All you can do is wait and see.

Posted by: Scattered Mom at August 27, 2009 11:37 AM

When I took my kids in for their physicals earlier this month I asked about that. Our doc said it's a very good possibility that swine flu would run rampant in the schools. The supposed vaccine for it is months away from being available. When I asked what we were supposed to do, he said, "Are you religious?"

So yeah, I am worried...

Posted by: Theresa at August 27, 2009 11:45 AM

I think that it is definitely possible and while I am often skeptical of those types of doomsday reports, by all account from reputable doctors that scenario is apparently not out of the realm of possibility. It concerns me greatly because we have a two year old son who has battled respiratory issues. In fact we were in the hospital last night with him because he has pneumonia. I asked about the swine flu and if he is at greater risk and the doctor said a) there could be the type of pandemic that is being reported, especially if there are outbreaks in schools and b) because my son has a predisposition to respiratory illnesses it would be wise to limit his exposure to groups of children. So, as of today I cancelled my gym membership where he was in a child care situation. I may be over reacting, but I'd rather be too cautious than not cautious enough.

Posted by: Sarah at August 27, 2009 12:57 PM

Not worried. Also not worried about bird flu, SARS, West Nile Virus, or killer bees from Mexico.

Will I get my kids vaccinated? Yep. I did last year too, before H1N1 strain.

Posted by: Brad at August 27, 2009 1:22 PM

Hype. Handwashing (SOAP AND WATER NOT PURELL/HAND SANITIZER) is the best defense as far as I'm concerned. But I don't have kids. And no, I won't be getting vaccinated.

Posted by: Amy at August 27, 2009 1:25 PM

I think it's mostly hype. Which isn't to say that I'm not concerned, I'm just not concerned at the level the media seems to want me to be.

This spring, Diane Sawyer seemed to really try to whip things into a frenzy during an interview with the head of the CDC, and then a couple days later, the flu thing had dropped off the media's radar. Stupid me, I actually thought the flu had sort of disappeared until they started talking about it again this fall, all because I fell for the whole "reaction commensurate with the reality" trap.

So as big as the hype was this spring, the flu affected us barely at all. I'm not falling for it again. Has the media ever read the story about the little boy who cried wolf?

Posted by: Becky at August 27, 2009 1:32 PM

Times like these are when it's most important to remember that the media is primarily populated by the lowest common denominator. They don't know what they're talking about, they throw statistics in a blender, blend them together until they resemble something that sounds dangerous/important, then pour it into a newspaper or onto the server that houses the entire internet where people read it and then pee a little due to how hopeless their life just became. You know what else could cause 90,000 U.S. deaths? Pretty much anything. Traffic, bad cheese, cancer (causes easily more than that every year), living in Russia, etc. You know what else causes death? Being alive. It's been proven.

So, no. Don't worry about the swine flu. Have your kids vaccinated for the regular flu and polio, then watch them grow into angsty teenagers, where you'll likely start to regret having them vaccinated at all.

Posted by: You can call me, 'Sir' at August 27, 2009 1:44 PM

I saw the same headline the other night, and it certainly sparked my inner hypochondriac. People are disgusting (cruel, but true). The other night, I watched someone sneeze onto the produce at the grocery store. So in a sense, we are helpless in defending ourselves against this. Thankfully, that 90,000 is a worst-case-scenario, not a prediction.

Posted by: April at August 27, 2009 1:54 PM

I'm a believer in the "you get what you focus on" type of girl so I refuse to even consider the thought. Head in the sand mentality? Perhaps, but it works for me. Besides, freaking out about it isn't going to change anything, except perhaps the amount of sleep you get! :)

Posted by: laineyDid at August 27, 2009 2:17 PM

Sam Jones said "I'm not going to get in a twist over it." Sam, I am totally stealing that line and am going to begin using it every day, in every situation that I possibly can. Love it.

Anyhow. Statistics vary on annual death rates from the flu. They are between 36,000 and 40,000 according to the CDC.

So - the estimate of 90,000 could be more than double or more than triple. Either way - that's a lot more.

While I think so much of it is media-hype - I think there is a cause to be more vigilant. Especially with the walking petri dishes that are children. More hand washing. Showers immediately after school to wash off as many germs as possible (especially their grimey little faces, which little ones seem to be constantly touching, rubbing, etc.) Limiting contact with kids with the sniffles as much as possible. (If we know Sam's brother is sick and going to Sam's birthday party - we probably won't attend.) ENSURING that there is enough physical activity for my boys, which is a great immune builder. Making sure we limit the amount of processed foods which have very little (to no) nutritional value and filling up on fresh fruits and veggies as much as possible. Giving them natural, known immune strengtheners. Honey, cinnamon, probiotics in certain yogurts. Making sure they get enough REST. And honestly? I'll probably be quicker to take my kids to the doc for a sniffle to test for the flu - whereas before - I normally wait a good 7-10 days after the beginning of a sniffle to make sure it's not allergies or if their bodies can kick it out all by itself.

Posted by: Mindy in Las Vegas at August 27, 2009 2:24 PM

I'm not that worried, most people who have died from it have underlying health problems, in fact I'm less worried about getting it myself than I am passing it on to my friend's 2 year old who breathes through a tracheostomy tube. The person who sits behind me at work is off with it at the moment and other than deep clean her desk there hasn't been too much concern, even amongst the several pregnant women in our office. I think my employers are more worried about the effect of having masses of people off sick at once, given that I work for a highly visible government department this is fair enough.

I've resigned myself to the fact that I'm probably going to get it.

Posted by: Katherine at August 27, 2009 3:05 PM

I wonder if it's like all the other tales of doom and gloom the media jumps on. But then I think, what if?? and I get nervous. It just seems like such a huge number. I also wonder if schools are going to make it mandatory to get the shot this year before winter hits.
Crossing fingers for a quiet flu season!!!

Posted by: Dawn at August 27, 2009 3:05 PM

We have already had the flu this season, thank you very much. Here in my neck of the South, we not only start school the beginning of Aug, but we start the flu season early too. At least this year. But apparently the strain (type b, not swine) my fam had is different that what the vaccine will cover, so just as soon as the pediatrician has it available I will line my kids up for the shot and I'll get one too.

Posted by: Meredith at August 27, 2009 4:36 PM

I don't know. Your fear for your kids is understandable though, because I think on some level all parents must wish they could put their children in bubbles! (Sometimes soundproof ones :P ) This is one of those things I'll discuss with my nurse mother...and then, wash my hands, as I always do, and maybe carry a little bottle of hand sanitizer.

Posted by: Heather at August 27, 2009 8:16 PM

I'm worried because we've had one confirmed death and over 200 kids out at each of the 4 schools here in town.

I'm HIV+ and my viral load is through the roof right now (1.7 M)... so I'm on lock down...

anyone with a compromised immune system needs to be careful, imo.

Posted by: redribbonredhead at August 27, 2009 9:40 PM

Having just gone through (actually still in) winter down here in Australia we have all been hit hard with the swine. A month or so ago it was panic stations - mostly the media getting hyped up about it all as some people were dying. But the people that DID die, would probably have died from the normal flu - they had existing conditions that left them open to any kind of infection/flu. Pregnant women were also in high risk - and kids too. Being 7 months pregant now meant that I was a little concerned, but wasn't going to start wearing masks like the media would have had me doing. My Mum and brother both got it - in fact they stopped checking for it because SO many people had it. If you (and your kids) are already healthy and strong you will all be fine. It is fairly nasty, but mostly just like a bad flu. So be aware, try and prevent hanging around people who are sick, if you get sick, rest and take it easy... but don't freak out! OINK!

Posted by: Beth at August 28, 2009 6:00 AM

I'm not too worried. My husband is a doctor and says the same thing: most people who die of the flu - ANY FLU - have preexisting conditions and the general population is not at risk for imminent death. That being said, I will definitely step up the handwashing/sanitizing routine as soon as school starts in 2 weeks.

Posted by: Velma at August 28, 2009 3:42 PM

I wasn't even thinking about the flu until this week when we had teacher orientation for the preschool I"m working at this year. Apparently the university in our town already has a bunch of cases in their community. Our head of school focused at least 5 minutes of every morning meeting this week on what to do if a kid came in with any flu like symptoms. Should I be worried, nah probably not. It did freak me out to hear that less the 5 miles from home there were at least 40 cases of H1N1 though.

Posted by: Lizzle at August 28, 2009 5:08 PM

Fucking flu. It's a whole lotta hype...

To get ready? I'll probably get a flu shot and get one for the boy. If there is a H1N1 vaccine we'll get that too...

Posted by: Nat at August 29, 2009 8:49 PM

Have to day it is pure evil media hype.

I am more afraid of the vaccination than the flu itself - no testing and rushed to market. Plus this flu has come around before and vaccination then was worse than the flu itself.

Just wash your hands.

Posted by: kellylynn at August 30, 2009 9:31 AM

Living in London, swine flu hysteria was quite severe, but by now has almost completely died down. The statistics of the number of people who regularly die of REGULAR flus, aren't much sunnier, but they don't have such a snappy name.

Even many of the swine flu hotlines have shut down here, because enough people have gotten it, threw up and survived it, that it just isn't that scary anymore.

What I *do* wonder is, while the hype is being built up, and pharmabusiness thrives, are there any other issues passing under the radar while headlines are consumed by swine?

That, I think, might be its most dangerous after-effect.

What IS going on overseas now anyway?

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