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The Family Room by Michelle Martin

October 11, 2009

Swine flue scare?

As I write this, my nose is stuffed up and my throat is sore.

No, I don’t have the H1N1 flu virus, the more correct name of the “swine flu,” nor any other flu virus that I know of. I am the victim of a fall cold, almost an annual rite of passage after the kids return to school.

What’s different this year is the rising emphasis on preventing infection. Plastic dispensers full of hand sanitizer have appeared in the conference rooms and coffee stations at our offices, in my doctor’s office and in schools.

Schools have sent home notes detailing how they will handle any outbreaks of the flu virus, and telling parents what they should do if they suspect their children are infected.

A leadership program that Caroline went to in Washington, D.C., told parents not to send their kids if they had flu symptoms; instead, they could switch to another session free of charge. Just to be sure, all children had their temperatures taken when they arrived — a precaution many camps took over the last summer.

What it seems to come down to is this: Try to prevent the flu by maintaining healthy habits. Eat right. Get enough sleep. Wash your hands. If you or your child does become infected, stay home. Rest. Don’t go back to work school until you or child feels better. No need to visit the doctor’s office, even, unless you are part of a high-risk group, such as pregnant women or people with chronic illnesses, or you develop severe symptoms.

Sounds like common sense, doesn’t it?

That seems to be what people generally should do whenever they are sick.

Part of the reason might be that, for most people who get the H1N1 virus, the resulting illness is no worse than the regular seasonal flu. The main difference seems to be that H1N1 spreads more easily, so more people will be infected. Since a small percentage of those who get sick will experience severe illness, or even die, it stands to reason that the more people who are infected, the more who will face dire consequences.

Also, this flu virus seems to be disproportionately hard on people who usually handle the seasonal flu without much difficulty: children and young adults. The elderly, on the other hand, seem to have an easier time with H1N1, perhaps because they were exposed to a similar virus sometime in their youth.

I don’t think the concern about H1N1 is necessarily overblown, and I’ll avail myself of all the added opportunities to keep my hands clean. But I wonder why it took something like this to remind us of precautions that should be common sense.

Martin is assistant editor of the Catholic New World. Contact her at [email protected].