Tuesday, October 06, 2009

A Journal of the Plague Years

So, local news last evening did a story on the airport. Seems that PDX is going to be offering surgical masks at the TSA checkpoints, for those coughing, sneezing passengers who might, uh, voluntarily want to don one to protect their fellow passengers.

Some parts of the medical system in the U.S. are making it mandatory for health workers to take the swine flu vaccine. You don't, you stay away from patients, maybe lose your job.

Commercial airliners are essentially large petri dishes. If you want to make half the world sick, set a bioweapon-grade viral pathogen loose at a major airport anywhere in the world. Within days, that bug will have made its way to far corners of the Earth.

The airlines recycle cabin air, and as anybody who has ever flown knows, thus take out enough moisture so such air would be right at home in the Gobi Desert in midsummer, drying out sinuses as effective as shoving a hair dryer up your nose.

The airlines tout their "hospital quality" air filters. But the Purolators they use filter down to -- in theory, if they are clean -- 0.3 microns.

Viruses vary, but most are way smaller than 0.3 microns -- those include the influenza ones -- so those suckers zip right on through those filters like wrens through chicken wire. Might as well kiss every other passenger on the lips when you get onboard for the exposure you'll get flying from Portland to Dallas.

The aircraft filters stop some bacteria, and will catch fatter particles, but none of those cause the flu.

Of course, I'm of a mind that the media have blown this H1N1 swine flu virus threat into slow-news day proportions. Regular old bird flu kills thirty thousand people a year in this country, and the swine version looks to put up about the same numbers. That's bad, of course, but we aren't talking about the Black Death here.

Watching Channel Two, you get the impression the other Three Horsemen are just down the street behind Pestilence, and might as well bend over and kiss your ass good-bye now.

Yeah. People get sick, and people are going to catch this stuff, but not everybody will. When I was young and fit and working as a PA at a Family Practice Clinic, during the season, we had literally hundreds of patients cycling through with flu every day, and I never caught it. Not in five years of very-frequent exposure.

Didn't catch a host of worse things that passed through our doors, either. Medical people are taught aseptic technique.

No guarantees -- sometimes you catch shit, but here's the deal to shade the odds your way:

Wash your hands frequently, or use Purell when you can't. Don't let people cough or sneeze in your face. Don't drink out of the same glass your spouse does if they are sick.

Drink a lot of water, and get enough sleep, eat good food, to keep your immune system running well. But don't, for God's sake, board yourself up in your home with your gun handy to shoot callers who might have a seasonal allergy.

The end times might be coming, but swine flu isn't the harbinger. The monsters are not due on Maple Street just yet.


heina said...

Since I have been flying almost every week (or at least every two) for the last year, here are a few tips for flying that have helped me.

First off, accept that your hands are deadly weapons the moment you get anywhere near the airport. You may not touch your face, head, etc with them or you might as well lick the arm rest.

Second, when you get on the plane, reach up and immediately shut off the air blowing thingie. You will probably get a little warm. Don't worry you won't notice because your nose and eyes will be itching and remember, you can't touch those.

Third, do not eat anything with your hands. This is how most people get sick from airplanes. Touch the arm rest, touch a cracker, place in mouth, fail. I often eat the ritz crackers they give on Southwest by holding the plastic wrapper and maneuvering the food to my face without ever touching it. Sterile eating technique.

Fourth, wash your hands thoroughly when you can. Usually after I get through security I stop into the restroom and wash. On flights, I'll usually wash in the restroom. Remember, wash your hands FIRST before you do your business, and then again after. Wash again when you land.

Fifth, when you meet your loved ones at the gate, be aware that you are now a walking surface of plague. Refrain from the excessive huggy smoochy, especially if you didn't wash up carefully again.

Lastly, when you get home, immediately take all your clothes, put them in the wash, and go get a shower.

Hope this helps others.

Stan said...

You all do know the difference between the "bird flu" and "swine flu, right? After all, it's kind of important....

With bird flu, you need tweetment.

With swine flu, you need oinkment!

Wash your hands after you log off...puns can be contagious!

Thanks, Folki!

Dan Moran said...

I was in Guadalajara earlier this year when the swine flu outbreak hit in Mexico. In about 3 days the entire city was wearing masks, and some wits had put them on the statues all about town. Amy's got a photo of one of the statues in its facemask ...

Justin said...

In Japan, it's almost a mandatory volunteerism to wear "masks" when you're sick. Like most of their customs, it makes sense.

Mike said...

Creepy photo, real creepy. Clowns are bad enough, but medical clowns? No, I don't think I'd want to go to a doc who wore a mask like this, or one who made his or her techs wear one, either.

J.D. Ray said...

I'm surprised that airlines recycle their air. When I was crewing cargo planes in the USAF (the venerable C-130H), the cabin air was bled off of one of the pre-combustion stages of the turbines. The air was dry as hell because there's very little moisture in the atmosphere at cruising altitude.