Love in the time of influenza

Feed me, Seymour! Influenza A viruses

Feed me, Seymour!

People are dropping to the left of us and dropping to the right of us. We seem to have a serious flu epidemic going on in our parts. Last night on the Evening Play-Nooz we heard thousands of cases have been diagnosed in Arizona, and a number of people have died. Given that most people can’t afford to go to the doctor with a case of the flu, the figures are undoubtedly just a fraction of the real number of victims.

For the first time in recorded memory, our choir director didn’t show up for midweek practice. He fell ill immediately the morning after the wedding for which we sang and ended up flat on his back. His doctor told him to stay in bed for seven days, and absolutely not to leave the house.

A vigorous and healthy man, this guy hasn’t missed work as long as I’ve known him, which has been a while. If he’s laid low, we frail old bats haven’t got a chance. The fancy private school attached to the old-money church is awash in flu (attendance down more than a third, one mother claimed), and since he also leads the children’s choir, that’s likely where he picked up the bug. At least one public school, I heard in passing, is threatened with closing because so many kids are sick.

Speaking of sick old bats, as I walked up to the checkout stand at the Safeway I noticed the clerk, one of the regulars who clings to the job despite reduced pay and slashed hours, looked like she’d been banging on Death’s door but they wouldn’t let her in. When I asked, by way of greeting, how she was doing, she said she wasn’t feeling so good.

“You have the same look I get when I have a terrible headache,” I said.

“Yeah, except the headache started a week ago. This has been building up all week. First the headache. Then my back and legs started to ache, and now every muscle in my whole body hurts!” And not only that, but half the rest of the store’s employees are already out sick.

Naturally, because I had a bandaid on my thumb I hadn’t been able to squitch open the damn plastic bags in the produce department, so I’d just picked up a few things, unbagged, and carried them to the cash register. While she’s telling me this story, she’s handling the parsley, the green onions, the tomatoes, my Safeway card, a pen for me to sign the credit-card receipt… Urk!

I suggested she should go home, if she was that sick.

She said she was trying to go home: that she’d been calling a manager for the past hour to tell him she needed to leave, but he wasn’t answering. She said quite a few of the store’s clerks were out sick, and she hated to leave him even more short-handed.

More likely, she hated to forego the pay: in a right-to-work state like Arizona, grocery store clerks are grossly underpaid and often have little or no sick leave. If she stays home with the flu, she may go without her pay. And since many low-income workers live from paycheck to paycheck, she has to weigh the benefit of not exposing customers to the flu against her next meal.

If the way our good cashier appeared to feel, if the way our choir director evidently felt is what authorities are calling “mild” in describing swine flu, we don’t even want to know what “severe” may be. Steer clear of this little guy, folks:

  • Wash your hands frequently.
  • Wash all fresh produce and anything else that doesn’t get thoroughly cooked before consuming it.
  • Get your flu shots!
  • Get your kids immunized!
  • Stay out of public places as much as possible.

Take care of yourselves!

Image: Dr. Erskine Palmer, Influenza A virus, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Public Health Image Library

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Mrs. Accountability October 12, 2009 at 12:03 pm

Actually, I’ve been reading it’s the young and healthy who are more susceptible to H1N1 because their healthier systems fight harder which makes them sicker. Check this link on cytokine storm http://scienceblogs.com/aetiology/2009/04/swine_flu_and_deaths_in_health.php For once a good reason to old and worn out. ;-)

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