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Jeanne Jeong '12: Another column about swine flu

In case we don't get enough administrative e-mails at the beginning of the school year, swine flu warnings have infiltrated Brown inboxes this fall. At first, I skipped reading the messages. After all, schools across the U.S. went through the same scare last year, and in response, Brown chose to display antibacterial hand sanitizer stands to constantly remind us of the threat. So I figured this year would be no different, with even more people, regrettably, failing to wash their hands around campus in favor of using the more time-efficient sanitizer.

But like the quick spread of the flu, these e-mails have become increasingly more alarming, laying down the rules for self-quarantining and most recently, self-diagnosing, based on a combined integrity and internet system.  The idea of an "influenza-like illness," or "ILI" has set precedent for many with flu-like symptoms — obviously — declaring that they probably have swine flu.

For the few that have not yet had a swine-flu scare, I'll touch on the basics. Sick students shouldn't leave their rooms until 24 hours after flu-like symptoms have disappeared. They should stay far from their roommates and friends, demand delivery service for Ratty food and, if possible, wear a face mask before urgently evacuating a building. These are, for the most part, things I could have guessed, though I think grabbing a mask might not be my first response to a fire alarm. Then again, if the alarm is coming from Wriston Quad fraternity housing, as alarms on this campus so often are, you might be used to the noise anyway. In such a case, you might as well make swine-flu protection a part of your standard procedure.

My initial reaction was to feel sorry for the infected, for obvious reasons. Aside from the physical side effects, they carry with them the stigma of the flu and an invitation for many bad jokes. But the friends and roommates of the infected may have it worse. Just knowing that a roommate has swine flu is enough to make you get it, too. At a point where it seems everyone on campus has the flu or is closely related to someone with it, one feels rather hopeless.

But don't lose hope yet — I'm sure there are some perks. With luck, those with swine flu will be able to flaunt immunity as some small consolation for their early-onset illness and consequently have less to worry about right before mid-terms and exams. Others will proudly claim their once-infected status as a badge of honor and bravery, though the effects are entirely similar to the seasonal flu.

While I would like to self-quarantine myself from class to avoid getting the flu in the first place, it is not only wrong, but seems to be an almost futile effort. Though the increasingly familiar cases around campus are unnerving, there isn't much to do but take our chances and hope the hype is just that and nothing more.  Like the administration, I am not an advocate of sick students coughing contagiously around campus, but I remain skeptical of the extent to which the unvaccinated and vulnerable can resist contamination while continuing with daily activities. After all, once I even begin thinking of the possible ways swine flu could be spreading, I start to feel a little more under the weather than I did five minutes prior. There are only so many intervals during which I can sanitize my hands while I type on a public keyboard, and only so many seconds I can hold my breath in fear of breathing in germs before I feel suffocated.

As with many other cases, it is recommended to be on guard and protected for fear of contracting disease. But for now, the scope of the flu is uncertain, as is the effectiveness of reasonable measures to avoid it. Though "just in case" self-diagnosing may sound appealing before the side effects occur, it sounds like a combination of bad karma and useless precautions. Yet in the meantime, some of us might want to exercise more discretion on certain Wednesday evenings at an unnamed bar that is a breeding ground for disease, though that may have been a good idea even before the swine flu came around.

Jeanne Jeong '12 is wondering what happened when pigs were found on a plane. (Answer: Swine flew.)


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