Cover Your Mouth

August 2nd

I just finished reading The Great Influenza. By “finished,” I mean quit on page 250. It is dry, dry, dry and it is a hard topic to read 400 pages about. There is only so much death and pestilence a girl can take. Plus, I’m not the biggest fan of nonfiction. I have to push myself through most of these books and am thrilled to be satisfactorily done with this one and on to something new.

Did you know the flu of 1918, commonly referred to as the Spanish Flu, killed 50 million people in 18 months? As the author notes, that is more than HIV/AIDS has killed in 20-plus years. And not just the young and the weak, as the flu is prone to knock off. This is where it gets scary. The bulk of those who died were in their 20s and 30s and otherwise very healthy. Some died within a day. Dropped dead, black from cyanosis and had holes in their lungs. These deaths are considered “double deaths” in epidemiology because they happen during reproductive years.

This book scared the shit out of me. I have friends (okay, one friend in particular) who’s been a bit freaked about global flu and I keep trying to calm her woes. Not now. Freak all you want. It is intensely frightening to think what will happen the next time the flu virus mutates and becomes this infectious. Millions will die within weeks. (Think about how slow transportation was in 1918 in comparison to global travel today.) My best suggestion is to stay home. If any sort of major infectious airborne disease strikes your hometown, stay home. Eat what you have, limit your contact with outsiders, telecommute. Do what you have to do to keep pathogens outside of your home and stay put.

A passage that fueled this new paranoia:
“Families closed off rooms where a body lay, but a closed door could not close out the knowledge and the horror of what lay behind the door. In much of the city, (Philadelphia) a city more short of housing than New York, people had no room that could be closed off. Corpses were wrapped in sheets, pushed into corners, left there sometimes for days, the horror of it sinking in deeper each hour, people too sick to cook for themselves, to sick to clean themselves, to sick to move the corpse off the bed, lying alive on the same bed with the corpse. The dead lay there for days, while the living lived with them, were horrified by them, and, perhaps most horribly, became accustomed to them.”

Ewww. Good Lord this was an awful time to be alive. On the bright side, it gives my line of work some major props:

“Public health was and is where the largest number of lives are saved, usually by understanding the epidemiology of a disease — its patterns, where and how it emerges and spreads — and attacking it at its weak points. This usually means prevention. Science had first contained smallpox, then cholera, then typhoid, then plague, then yellow fever all through large-scale public health measures, everything from filtering water to testing and killing rats to vaccination. Public health measures lack the drama of pulling someone back from the edge of death, but they save lives by the millions.”

My review? 3 out of 5 informative bananas. 5 out of 5 scare me bananas. 1 out of 5 entertain me bananas.


Posted in
Journal, Media, Public Health
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21 Responses

  1. Well thank you very much. And I have my stock of tuna fish all ready.

    I worry about how dependent we all are on things like electricity. Like if something happened to our electricity in Phx we would all die. We can’t survive the heat, and there’d be absolutely no way to cool food.

    So I’m a freaker-outer.

  2. I will not be reading that book as I’m a big freaker-outer too. That is freaking scary. And gross.

    There is something to be said for the Mormons who store a years worth of food in their home.

  3. Ok, I’m already a major germ-phobe. Definitely won’t be reading that book! The only non-fiction book I think I’ve ever read (aside from text books) was The Hot Zone about the American outbreak of the Ebola virus. Talk about scary! Yikes! I’ll stick w/my current read, Harry Potter!!! πŸ™‚

  4. I have to admit I will never read that book. In fact I don’t think I’ll ever read anything like it.

    I once watched an Oprah show where they were talking about what would happen if the bird flu came to America. It took everything I had not to go to Wal-Mart and buy the masks they suggested. LOL I quickly turned off the tv and called my sister who freaked out. πŸ™‚

  5. it seems you learned a lot in the “short” 250 pages you read. you didn’t make it seem so dry, dry, dry … i’m glad you shared it in an interesting fashion, so i don’t have to read it!!!!

    and I just read heather’s comments. i’m Mormon and we are supposed to be prepared for all things, including flu epidemics, mother nature’s tragedies, unemployment, etc. (sometimes it’s easier said than done, though.)

  6. ack. I’ve considered that book but now maybe I will unconsider it. I’m paranoid enough. We do have a supply of food & water stored for the inevitable….somethingorother….but lord knows if we’d really have all we need. Scary times, scary scary.

  7. Crystal T August 2, 2006

    Oh sweet God in heaven…… I think I just peed on myself a little while reading your post. How scary is THAT!! So I have a question before I go to the store and stock up on goods to keep us alive while the new flu kills everybody… When we lock ourselves in our homes do we leave windows cracked for venalation or shut ourselves in and tape up the windows? I ask dumb questions all the time, and mabye this is one. πŸ™‚ BUT I NEED TO KNOW!! Oh and on the bright side of the new mutated flu- Mabye it will follow the same timeline as the spanish flu and kill us within a day. I mean, if I am gonna die of it, take me fast flu, take me fast… Ugh.

  8. “Public health measures lack the drama of pulling someone back from the edge of death, but they save lives by the millions.β€šΓ„ΓΉ

    This struck me as interesting. Being a crazy researcher myself on mostly vaccinations and vaccinations studies I can’t quite agree with all that they said in that paragraph. I have a book to lend you! We don’t even get the flu vaccine. My daughter has not and will not be vaxed unless we go overseas. For me, the flu mutates every yearly and can become a more deadly strain based on the vaccinations of the flu. Just like with antibacterial soap. You use that, you kill all the germs right? Bad ones AND the good ones which result in an even more complex mutation of the viruses that you are “protecting” yourself from. KWIM?
    I try not to even worry myself with plagues and these horrendous things that “they” say is going to happen like the bird flu epidemic. What’s the point? Freaking myself out over something I can’t possibly control. The best I can do is keep my imminuty healthy by proper nutrition and supplementation and take my chances. πŸ™‚

  9. I think I’m leaning more toward Amanda’s POV here. I mean, we have a store of water, food, emergency supplies, etc in our garage and cars but beyond that, I can’t be freaking out and covering my body in antibacterial lotion and gas masks. I will do what I have to in order to stay safe, but beyond that, I think it’s important to remain sane. The words, “Do Not Panic”, come to mind.

    Everyone – take care of yourselves the best way we know how: Eat well, get enough rest, exercise regularly, drink plenty of water and remain calm.

  10. Ok, now that we are all freaked out, what can you tell us about the possibility of a flu pandemic happening? And, Amanda, share the title of that book, please.

  11. You are going to love “Interpreter of Maladies!” And then you must immediately read her second book, which I can’t remember the name of right now, but which is stunning.

    Mmmm…I love books.

  12. SEE. I’m totally not crazy. Look at how many of your people agree with me!

  13. we need to keep a good amount of supplies, just in case…and lots of bottled water. then breathe deep and relax.

  14. Some friends of mine were passing this book around – I declined. It scares the shit out of me to think about stuff like this.

  15. Oh boy. I think I might be the only one who thinks ‘if it happens, it happens’.

    Worrying about it isn’t going to make you any safer or keep you from catching it.

  16. Um, eep. I am never leaving the house again, I am a hermit by nature already so this won’t be too hard…

  17. Is it incredibly nerdy that I LOVE to read about the flu of 1918? I love a pandemic!

  18. I can’t quite do non-fiction, but I’ve been really interested in reading Wickett’s Remedy by Myla Goldberg (set during the 1918 flu epidemic) ever since I heard her talking about it on “All Things Considered” on Sept. 28th 2005. I’m just a little behind on my reading list.

  19. The woodcutter reads loads of stuff on @bird flu’. In the winter when it was big news over here, he even started stocking up on food, His aim was for a 3 month food store!!! He’s nuts when it comes to stuff like this. I’m surprised he never built a nuclear bunker in the 80’s!!lol

  20. Rebecca August 7, 2006

    Eh – I am gonna die sometime. As long as I had a good life – nothing is going to stop me from doing it all. Flu be DAMNED. I would love to read that book. Sounds like it is up my alley.

  21. ha! i just “finished” The Orchid Thief the same way. i turned the page last night, and — with 100+ pages still left to read — i said, “the end” and put it in the pile of books to sell.