The flu by any other name still stinks
As I sit here with the flu, surrounded by used tissues, I wonder if the guy who used to make art with bodily fluids ever made works out of snot. That guy, Andres Serrano, became infamous for works with urine (his controversial piece of a crucifix glowing in a jar of urine nearly ended the National Endowment for the Arts, which had awarded Serrano a grant), semen and blood (featured on two Metallica album covers) and other fluids, so it’s easy for me to imagine a cheery decoupage or something he might make with snotty Kleenexes.
Surely Serrano gets the flu once in a while, but then when you have the flu you don’t much think about making art. That’s probably a shame, because mucus is sort of an under-appreciated bodily fluid. I’ve cursed it mightily over the past few days as it’s attempted to choke me to death, plugged up my sinuses or abandoned those same sinuses like a fully opened faucet. But I have to give it some appreciation for lining my intestines so that my stomach acid doesn’t just eat a hole in my body, thus allowing this morning’s eggs, toast and coffee to fall out into the floor soon after having been swallowed. If my high school health class gave me nothing else, it provided me with a dramatic appreciation for mucus.
As for the flu, though, my appreciation is somewhat less. Overall, this has been a mild flu for me (and there’s no real guarantee it’s the flu), although I keep hearing of friends and acquaintances who are ending up with walking pneumonia because of it. “Walking pneumonia” has the sound of “Yeah, I’ll let you walk around, and then I’ll kill you when I feel like it.” Viruses have a sense of humor like the mafia.
In fact, the flu’s history is longer and gorier than the mafia’s. The flu has been suspected of being the culprit of pandemics from at least Roman times. Columbus’ crew is suspected of bringing it to the Antilles, resulting in the death of almost the entire indigenous population there in 1493. A suspected flu pandemic began in Russia in 1889 and killed more than 1 million people over the next two years.
And the famous flu of 1918 (sometimes called the Spanish flu), killed so many people that it’s hard to estimate just how many millions (estimates go up to 100 million) succumbed to the illness. It’s estimated that two percent of the people who contracted that flu died as a result. Take a walk through any graveyard that dates to the beginning of the 20th century, and you’ll see an inordinate number of deaths in 1918 and 1919. I suppose it’s with a mafia-like sense of humor that the planet underwent its first world war before witnessing a tiny virus killing perhaps more people at its conclusion than the war itself.
As flu pandemics became a common occurrence, they prompted the development of curative vaccines. Jonas Salk, who developed the polio vaccine, co-developed the first flu vaccine in 1938, and they have improved greatly since that time.
They haven’t all been successes. Those of us who remember the 1976 swine flu outbreak can recall a vaccine that did more damage than the virus itself. That strain of flu was responsible for one reported death, but the vaccine was culpable for 25. It also was linked to vaccine recipients developing a serious neurological condition called Guillain-Barré syndrome.
A flu vaccine also on rare occasions can cause reactions in people who are severely allergic to eggs because the vaccines are developed in their embryos.
It’s generally agreed that modern flu vaccines save lives, especially among the elderly, and the side effects are minimal. The challenge for the Centers for Disease Control is to outrun the viruses’ ability to mutate and become immune to the vaccines.
The 2017/2018 vaccine protects against three circulating flu viruses: A/Michigan/45/2015/(A1N1)pdm09-like (virus updated), A/Hong Kong/4801(H3N2)-like virus and B/Brisbane/60/2008-like virus (B/Victoria lineage) virus.
There’s a fourth virus that the CDC hopes to have incorporated into the vaccine called B/Phuket/3073, which sounds as much like a description of how it makes you feel as it does a clarification of from where it originated. It also has a lineage, 2013-like (B/Yamagata lineage), which sounds a little vague, as if maybe they don’t know who the father is.
The CDC, of course, gives viruses names so that they can track the viruses from which they mutated. It’s a little like the American Kennel Club names for show dogs. In fact, the CDC might take a cue from the AKC for more memorable designations. B/Brisbane/60/2008-like virus (B/Victoria lineage) virus isn’t nearly as memorable as Brisbane’s Scourge of Humanity From Queenie, Killer of Victoria’s Aged. Now that’s a flu virus that can garner some respect.
I’m naming whatever I have Aching Joints Snot Loader From Probable Shopping Cart.