Flu-ey Achoo-ey

By Matthew Hennessey

I hate getting sick. I really do. No one likes getting sick. But my fear of the cold and flu season transcends mere annoyance. It’s at the point where I have a hard time enjoying the late autumn because I know—I just KNOW—I’m going to be getting sick any day now.

Although I de-spise de-sniffles, I’ve often thought that I could better handle being under the weather if I knew in advance A) just when I’d be getting sick and B) how long it would last.

You see, it’s the uncertainty that really gets me. I need to know: Am I in for a two-day deal, or a two-weeker?

This time of year rattles my nerves. Co-workers go down one-by-one. Tissue boxes appear on desks. At home, the kids are sniffling and wiping their noses on their sleeves. I’m washing my hands like a surgeon—up to my elbows. When will it happen to me? How bad will it be? What depths of misery will I be called on to endure?

It doesn’t help that this is also (pick-your-animal) flu pandemic time of the year. What’s on the horizon for 2010? Swine flu? Gorilla flu? Godzilla flu?

In 2007, I wrote an article called “Remember Bird Flu?” It was about the H5N1 pandemic that was supposed to have swept us all away in 2005. If you recall, it was going to be the worst flu pandemic since the Spanish Flu of 1918-19. That flu killed 50 million people, 3 percent of the world’s population at the time. But bird flu didn’t make so much as a peep in the U.S. in 2005. Or 2007. Or since.

And then there was swine flu. Again, it was supposed to decimate us. Again, bupkus. Yes, I know a few who came down with a version of H1N1 virus—the so-called swine flu—but they experienced nothing more serious than your average headache, coughing, and sore throat. It knocked them out of work for a couple of days, but it didn’t send them to an early grave.

So what gives? Why the big flu panic every year or two?

I’ve heard that the greedy, evil pharmaceutical companies are behind it. But a conspiracy of this magnitude seems difficult to pull off once. Bringing it off every year, or every other year, simply to bump up Tamiflu sales, seems like it would take more energy than it would be worth.

We’ve got the know-how to rescue 33 guys who have been trapped 2,600 feet below the ground for 69 days. It seems like we should be able to tell the difference between a bug that will kill 50 million people across the globe, and one that will kill 10 poultry-market workers in Jakarta. (Look, all life is sacred, and no one should die from the flu, but the scope of the panic seems to have been really out of step with the actual threat posed by these illnesses.)

Could it be that the science of epidemiology is less than 100 percent predictive? Perish the thought. As we know from the global warming wars, when scientists reach a consensus, there can be no doubts about the truth of a thing.

So it’s settled. We are all going to die an agonizing, gurgling, suffocating death from the avian/canine/equine/swine flu sometime this year/decade/century.

Now that I know, I’m already feeling better.

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