I had to fly yesterday on business, and the dire warnings about a new, more virulent outbreak of H1N1 certainly make air travel more exciting. Any time you are in an enclosed area with a bunch of people you are bound to hear a certain number of coughs, sneezes, and sniffles, and if you are paranoid you wonder whether any public surface you touch — like the armrest on a chair in an airport waiting lounge — has just been exposed to the drippings from a kid’s runny nose.
Most Americans seem to ignore health warnings, or at least don’t let them affect their everyday lives. I don’t know whether many Americans are taking H1N1 more seriously, but on the plane yesterday I did see an older woman wearing one of those white masks. She may have been trying to avoid infecting people or trying to avoid being infected. In any case, it was an unusual, and somewhat unnerving, sight to see.
Yesterday the HR people at the firm circulated a publication from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that gave people tips on h0w to avoid getting H1N1, the latest strain of “swine flu.” The CDC webpage reflecting the advice is found here.
I was struck by how elementary the CDC advice was. Indeed, it was pre-elementary, because most of it was taught to us by our kindergarten teachers. What are the recommended “everyday actions to stay healthy”? First, cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze, and after you use a tissue throw it out. Second, wash your hands often with soap and water. Finally, you should stay home if you are sick (preferably, of course, tucked into a warm and cozy bed, lathered with Vicks Vap-O-Rub, drinking a 7-Up brought to you by your Mom and reading Richie Rich or Archie comics before you doze off in a thick haze of menthol vapor).
Who can’t picture their kindergarten teacher sternly giving these instructions? “Robert, please cover your mouth when you cough!” “Robert, your hands are filthy — go back and wash them thoroughly this instant!” If I survive the H1N1 epidemic, I will have to find Mrs. Radick, my kindergarten teacher at Rankin Elementary School in Akron, Ohio, and thank her personally.