1 - 2009

Friday wrap-up: Swine flu edition

This week, the world is alight with rumors and fear about swine flu. It’s especially timely for me to write about it, because our household has recently increased our knowledge about germs.

About swine flu

  • Read an overview of Swine Flu from the Huffington Post and see the top three tips to stay healthy. Odds are, they won’t surprise you. They are: Wash your hands frequently with soap and water (for full washing effectiveness, sing the alphabet song or “Happy Birthday” twice while washing). Keep your distance from people and avoid crowded areas if possible. And as we tell preschoolers in these here parts, “Cover your sneeze, please.” Sneeze into your elbow — it’s less likely to spread germs than your hands.
  • Don’t panic. Read about steps to create a vaccine, pronto, at, which notes:
    “Authorities sought to keep the crisis in context: Flu deaths are common around the world. In the U.S. alone, the CDC says about 36,000 people a year die of flu-related causes. Still, the CDC calls the new strain a combination of pig, bird and human viruses for which people may have limited natural immunity.”

The germ rundown

Here is some information to put swine flu and germs in general in perspective for you (and yes, I know flu is a virus, but it so happens that bacteria have been more prominent in my life of late):

  • This week, we saw an episode of “Mythbusters” (on the Discovery Channel) that focused on the myth, popularized on “Seinfeld,” that double-dipping a chip was the equivalent of “putting your whole mouth in the bowl.” It was a little grueling to watch their gross-out scientific method, so I did it for you, and the lowdown is: Double-dipping is not that bad. And an unsterilized chip/dip environment has as many bacteria already in it as the human mouth does. Click here to watch the episode (click near the top to skip the ad that shows up first).
  • A billboard for a new permanent exhibition called “Expedition Health” at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science points out that bacteria outnumber human cells within a human body by a factor of 10 to 1.
  • At that same exhibition, Mlle. Cheap and I conducted an experiment on what was most effective in eliminating bacteria within a sample. We could choose three cleaning solutions, so we picked household bleach, dish soap, and antibacterial hand sanitizer. (We didn’t choose household cleaner because it wasn’t specific enough, or antibacterial soap because we never use it.) The results showed that bleach killed all the germs in our sample, dish soap killed nearly all, and hand sanitizer was the least effective, although I postulated that it could be because the sanitizer was a gel and might not have fully dissolved. While I will concede that this experiment was conducted by a mom and an 8-year-old, we *did* look like professional scientists with our lab coats, goggles and gloves, and our results compared to the official results that showed that you do not need antibiotic soap to kill many household germs. And in fact, antibacterial cleaners might be changing our world for the worse by killing off too many bacteria — and encouraging those remaining to mutate.
  • Finally, Boing Boing this week published an article of “Fun Facts” about swine flu. Its humor disguises the fact that it is actually good information to clear up a bit of confusion around this latest virus.

Watch your e-mail

Apparently, swine flu-related maladies are not limited to the human body. Mean people are taking advantage of the uproar to send malicious e-mails. Be cautious what you open, and do not open attachments if you’re not certain about their contents.

Keep it clean, people

Swine flu, and epidemics or pandemics, are no laughing matter. The fact is that people around the world are being sickened by this flu, and some, sadly, have died. It is certainly wise to take precautions to keep yourself and your family safe — but also do keep the news in perspective. After all, while a little worry might provide a short-term immunity boost, long-term stress weakens the immune system.

Now, please go wash your hands.

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