The Littlest Meap

Swine Flu

Posted by: meaplet on: May 3, 2009

Like most everyone else, I’ve spent the last week fixated on the Swine Flu/H1N1/whatever the cool kids are calling it today. I’ve been reading NPR’s Flu Shots blog, gossiping about #swineflu on Twitter, and speculating with not a little anxiety about that international trip I’ve got planned for next week.

But, geeky soul that I am, I’m a lot more excited about the epidemiological side of things than I am panicked by them. Perhaps I’ve been a little bit ::too:: excited by them, as exemplified by a few of my tweets earlier this week:

Does anyone want to be a cytokine with me for Halloween this year? We can storm things and kill them!

If Chuck Norris got swine flu, the resulting cytokine storm would kill everyone on the planet. He would survive.

I’ve been considering re-reading Connie Willis’s Doomsday Book, but fortunately my aunt has loaned me John M. Barry’s The Great Influenza, which is much more useful for my purposes. For one thing, it’s brought home exactly how disgusting cytokine storm deaths are. My enthusiasm is dampened, for the better.

Another useful lesson from the book is that while it now looks like things on the H1N1 front are slowing down and coming under control, it’s entirely possible that we could see it come back in a stronger form later this year. That’s what happened in 1918, when authorities mostly ignored a minor bug that seemed to be going around among soldiers in the spring and sent them home. It wasn’t until September of that year that young people started dying because their own immune systems were confused and attacking any tissue they could find.

As my aunt (who is, incidentally, a doctor) explains it–catch the flu now if you can, because it’s going to mutate. If it mutates to be more mild, than you won’t lose much by having the flu now. But if it mutates for the worse, getting immune now could be one of the best things you do for yourself.

(Or, if you prefer geekier descriptions of what you can do to keep yourself safe–level up your immune system by fighting the monster now. It won’t take too many HPs and gives you a crucial defense come the boss level.)

4 Responses to "Swine Flu"

If they develop a vaccine, it will still be effective if and when the virus comes back in worse form, right?

Hopefully, as long as it doesn’t change their markers too much. Apparently they’re actually holding back on a vaccine for this specific strain because they think they can now put together vaccines for much broader categories of flues. If they can develop a vaccine for all “A” flues then the individual markers won’t matter, apparently.

The most interesting etymology lesson I’ve gotten from the book so far: vaccinus is actually the Latin name for cowpox, which has more minor symptoms than smallpox but is similar enough to confer immunity. The first “vaccines” came about when doctors intentionally infected patients with cowpox so they’d be immune to smallpox.

Remember the vaccination scene in John Adams? Yikes.

That is a cool bit of etymology!

Comments are closed.