Quick! Everybody PANIC!

That’s right…it’s time for another Quick…Everybody PANIC! post.

Just after 9/11, during the Anthrax scare, I worked in an office that moved a lot of mail. Exactly one week after the 9/11 attacks, a total of seven letters were mailed to major news outlets (including at least one tabloid) and two United States Senators. 22 people became ill with anthrax; half of them contracted the deadly inhaled version, and five died. Now, in a nation of two hundred million people, it is astounding that everyone could freak out for months over something that affected so few. But in the office I worked in at the time, one woman swore up and down during the night shift that she’d discovered white powder in a piece of mail. Our building was evacuated and the fire department was called. Hazmat responded and the suspect mail was bagged and tested. As we stood out in the cold (it was November by that time, well after the final anthrax letter had been mailed), I listened to the woman who caused the brouhaha hysterically demand to know what our employer was going to do. “What if it ain’t nothin’, huh? What are you gonna do? Are you gonna take care of our families?!?”

I found out later that there was nothing in the letter–no white powder, not so much as a grain of sand. Nothing. The same thing happened two weeks later–again, caused by the same woman. Despite the obvious fact that it was likely all a ploy for attention most of the people who worked in my office at the time bought the whole thing, hook, line and sinker, and they all started getting nervous at the slightest mention of anthrax. It took a long time for anyone to lighten up about it. To this day the whole incident drives me up the wall because when something like this happens, people suddenly turn into two-legged sheep, believing every stupid rumor they hear and panicking over what usually turns out to be nothing.

Now our big panic is swine flu. I’m here to give you a few facts so you DON’T turn into one of the baaa-ing masses.

First of all, while any strain of the flu is contagious between humans, it’s already been said by several experts that this strain is actually less deadly than avian (bird) flu or any other previous strain of swine flu. The World Health Organization doesn’t want to take any chances, though, despite the ratio of deaths-to-cases being relatively low. It may suck, but your chances of dying are limited to the same factors that any other strain of the flu are: age (young children and elderly) and a compromised immune system. Beyond that, if you get it it’ll certainly suck, but it’s not as likely to be fatal.

The symptoms of the flu are fever, cough, sneezing, muscle aches, severe body aches, diarrhea and vomiting. Swine flu seems to come more with diarrhea and vomiting than anything else. Tamiflu helps, though, and there are other medications that can help with other symptoms.

Masks: not all masks will help defend against the virus!!! Most masks that you’ll find at local pharmacies are generic and too porous to defend against viruses; the germ can get into the mask and thrive in the warm, damp environment inside there and make you sick. You need to make sure that if you’re wearing masks, they’re N-95 certified or greater. Otherwise you’re doing yourself more harm than good.

It never ceases to amaze me just how many people I see walk out of the loo without washing their hands. Not only do I wash my hands, I use paper towels to open the door with to avoid touching the door handle. WASH YOUR HANDS (mom told you to do that for a reason, folks). Carrying hand sanitizer is a good idea, too–if you’re worried about your hands drying out, use a sanitizer with aloe in it.

Above all, don’t freak out. If you have a fever, stay home. Adults shouldn’t have fevers above around 101-102 degrees; 103 is the real danger point. For kids, 104 is trouble. If you’re worried, don’t go straight to the ER–go to your doctor. You shouldn’t go to the ER unless you have a real emergency (yes, having a temperature higher than what I just listed definitely qualifies, but those situations are more rare than you might think). Keep a calm head on your shoulders more than anything else.