The “swine” flu virus

Today I would like to comment on what is going on in Mexico and, by now, several other countries, including Spain, the UK and Germany. I am concerned mainly about my family in the U.S. and my buddy Sherlock and her husband (currently in southern California), but my thoughts are also with those of you who live in the affected areas.


According to the reports I have read, the main symptoms of this new strain of the influenza virus are: coughing, sore throat, aches, fever, chills, general malaise and then, after about a week, respiratory problems. Can we take any precautions? Sure we can. Let’s have a look at a few of the standard flu season recommendations (sorry if I forget anything)…


Flu viruses can survive up to two hours (or even more!) on surfaces such as doorknobs, countertops, phones, toys, shopping cart handles and computer keyboards. I read that these dangerous buggers live longer on plastic, metal or wood surfaces (i.e., non porous) than they do on fabrics, skin or paper. Based on that bit of information, here is a suggestion list:

  • avoid shaking hands with people.
  • don’t cough or sneeze into your hands (never!) but rather onto your sleeve.
  • never touch your eyes, nose or mouth unless you have washed your hands. Speaking of which…
  • the most important thing is to wash your hands thoroughly and frequently, especially after returning home from an errand or whatnot.

Some time ago, I read a very useful suggestion posted by a myeloma list member: as you wash your hands, sing “Happy Birthday” to yourself. That silly little song lasts exactly the amount of time recommended for a thorough hand-washing. I have been using this technique for quite some time, now, regardless of the season: “Happy Birthday to me, Happy Birthday to me, Happy Birthday dear meeeee, Happy Birthday to meeee, and Many moreeeeee.” Depending on my mood, I sing it (to myself) in Italian, too…since the language is irrelevant, of course.


Italy is not an at-risk country (thus far), so I am not concerned for myself or Stefano. Hmmm, a thought just occurred to me…I haven’t had any tests now in about six months and am finally running out of my feverfew pill supply. For the past several weeks I had been planning to go up to the hospital for my tests…but every time I decided on a particular day, something happened, and I had to postpone. Well, I guess I had better go have my tests done before the virus reaches Italy (as it may or may not). Okay, off to the hospital next week. I will wear a mask…just to be on the safe side.

In conclusion, all I can say to all of you who are currently in areas at risk is: please be careful, stay informed (see:, wash your hands, laugh to enhance your immunity and, above all, please stay well!


  1. I had a BMT last summer. I live on a farm in the midwest(US). I am no more concerned about this ‘swine’ flu than any other flu or cold that goes around. I never wear a mask, but do wash hands and use sanitizer faithfully. Last year in the US, the normal seasonal flu killed 36,000 people. There are always many strains of flu, this is just another one(and NO, you can’t get it from pork). If flu panic rules the day, causing more economic woes on the global economy, there will be even less money for medical research that us in the cancer community need so much.

  2. Thanks Margaret 😀
    However, I will never -ever- avoid shaking hands with people. Friendship and support are important, especially these times.
    I’m more worried by the 12hours or so we will spend on a plane going back to Europe…

  3. I must respectfully disagree with Jan. The medical community has recognized that this particular flu has a higher fatality rate than most. A few days ago my grown son (commuter college student) came down with flu symptoms (here in Maryland) and I tried to get him to go to the University health center and get an Rx for Tamiflu. He wouldn’t. Now the respiratory symptoms are starting to develop, so I’ve taken things into my own hands and called the health center. I hope it’s not too late for the Tamiflu to be effective. Word to the wise, take it early if you think you might have the flu coming on!

  4. Just closed the first school in Phoenix. Health officials here say that it is no big deal…. just another flu and NOT to go to the doctor just because you think you have it. Another thing to distract us from the war and economy!

  5. Jan,

    No. My son’s health center at his university apparently does not have the test. However, they have now diagnosed him with flu and have prescribed Tamiflu. The doctor told me that the university has started with a flu outbreak. Quite a few students there are from Mexico, and just got back from spring break. Anyway, it’s suspicious, since I’ve read that the flu season for other strains is now over. Tamiflu is indicated, though, whether it’s swine flu or another strain. Please don’t tell me that patients in places that don’t have the test, should be denied Tamiflu which is effective for all strains of flu. If it were your only child, you might feel differently.

  6. Hallie,

    Please, I am so sorry if any way I conveyed that your son should not get treatment. I would want every medical resource made available to him, just like if he had any other kind of flu that had complications.
    My point, though poorly made, was the US is now going to spend 1.5 BILLION on this H1N1 virus. While I think it is very important to get the word out, stay home if you are sick, see a doctor is you have complications and get proper treatment, wash your hands, an over reaction spends billions of dollars that is so needed for other medical research. This is the flu, plain and simple. We know how to deal with it, because we have been for decades.

  7. I don’t see how a person spending their own cash for Tamiflu takes away one cent from research. And whether research money, and how much of it, is diverted to research on flu control is going to depend very much on how serious the pandemic becomes! Certainly if it becomes a serious pandemic, research dollars SHOULD be made available for it, not just for this outbreak but for future outbreaks down the road. Once a strain becomes widespread, it tends to crop up more than once.

    As for complications, the aim in treatment of flu with Tamiflu is to PREVENT complications, not to treat them. There is only a small window of opportunity at the beginning of the infection in which Tamiflu is effective in reducing the length, severity, and probability of complications. After that window is past, there’s not much that can be done to prevent complications.

  8. Instead of shaking hands, my husband bumps knuckles (make a fist first, obviously).
    Not perfect prevention but better. You have to train your friends to greet you that way and it makes them think about your vulnerability in general.

  9. Before meeting people sneeze vigorously into your handkerchief.
    It’s only an act of self-preservation.
    Avoid shopping during peak periods.Order online for home delivery and
    put your gloves on before bringing everything indoors.Leave letters
    on the doormat for an hour or two before picking up.
    Walk instead of using public transport.
    Above all be of good heart: there are worse ways of dying than
    MM for example.

    Old Bill.
    Che sera sera.

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