Isherwood column: Disaster rendered by initials
By Justin Isherwood
COVID19 has become quite the circus, to observe there is ready criticism for any who call it a circus.
Disaster is rendered the more pleasant by initials, disease with nicknames like in eighth grade, nicknames our parents would make angry phone calls about. HIV, SARS, MERS, AIDS, DF, and GWD, this in case you don’t recognize is Guinea worm disease.
COVID19 was originally called SARS19 but they thought better of it. Flu viruses are inventive little organisms, hosts include pigs, ducks, chickens, birds, bats, horses, whales, seals and people. Down at the nanometer level it’s War of the Worlds as civilizations try to enslave another. Pretty much Third Reich stuff, where warfare antigens try to infiltrate the human DEW LINE and avoid the immune system’s anti-missile system.
Flus have accumulated a batting average over the span of history, the 10th curse of Moses that we still celebrate, designed to kill Egyptian first-born, may have been a youth-targeting flu. In 1580, a flu strain killed 8,000 in Rome, decimated several cities in Spain whose tour company had just returned. The mis-blamed Spanish Flu of 1918-19 (H1N1) killed 25 million in 25 weeks.
The Asian Flu of 1957 (H2N2) killed 70,000 in U.S. alone. What I remember came with realistic dreams I had a hard time escaping when awake. In the dream I was shot to death by the same firing squad as ended Davy Crocket at the Alamo. It’s probably not a good idea to let a kid read history when he has the flu with a high fever. Worldwide two million died, as flu goes, amateur stuff.
The Hong Kong Flu of 1968 (H3N2) killed 1-4 million. Flu numbers tend to be sloppy. The average annual flu death rate is in the 300-650,000 range. The Swine Flu of 2009 (H1N1) was when WHO first deployed thermal cameras to known sites in the attempt to detect elevated body temperatures and limit contagion. Deaths attributed to Swine Flu 150-600,000. U.S. 12,000, mortality about 0.02 percent. In Australia this same flu killed 13 percent of native aboriginals. When Columbus stopped at the Antilles in 1493, the entire indigenous population died. Flu is like that.
SARS 2002, sourced to bats, caused only 8,000 deaths world-wide, 8 deaths in U.S. but the death rate of those who caught it was 10 percent, older adults 50 percent. Far more lethal than flu of 1918.Luckily SARS 2002 wasn’t very contagious, unlike COVID19,more contagious, not so lethal. Yes I know, define lethal.
MERS of 2012 mostly confined itself to the Middle East hence its name Middle East Respiratory Syndrome. Hard to transmit, 34 percent lethal.
Flu comes equipped with a certain amount of gallows humor, and variable analysis. In response to COVID19 the World Health Organization has called for isolation and confinement of flu carriers. Northern Italy has travel bans affecting 30 percent of the population. Most states have closed schools, banned public gatherings, sports, concerts, birthday parties. Conversely, Health Care Canada believes the infection is already too widespread to be contained, preferring instead to isolate the vulnerable.
Pandemic isn’t supposed to be a political word, but like football variable strategies are involved, some of which might work better but we won’t know until the game is over and we know the score.
President Trump and Garrison Keillor (NY Times) are strange allies on the subject of COVID19, to suspect neither would admit it. The President at first rather Churchillesquely saying, be calm, go to work, American righteousness shall prevail. Garrison commenting how New Yorkers are avoiding eye contact, what I thought New Yorkers did anyway. Garrison saying with the COVID19 how New Yorkers smell so nice, like a doctor’s office. However if you happen to touch a public handrail, you will soon after be on a desert island tended by nurses in Hazmat suits. At least President Trump can’t accuse Garrison of being a media fraud.
Recently WHO recommended Americans have a two-week supply of food in the house. As a rural type I’m surprised we don’t already. In order to survive power failure, when the roads flood, the snow’s too deep or winter is too cold. Or when the world has the flu. Three weeks is a better idea. If National Health Service in England says 14 weeks. My grandfather’s farm went three months without going to town during the Spanish Flu, 1918 (H1N1). It mattered.