Running With Scissors

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Under the Bed with Animals on My Head

Spotted this one day on the front of a greeting card:

I'm going to quit my job, drop out of society, and wear live animals on my head.

Sounds like a plan.

Which brings me to a question: if you're convinced that the planet is out to get you, are you paranoid or just realistic? There's certainly been enough bad news lately to scare even the most oblivious of us. In the US, we've got the right coast and the south being pummelled by hurricanes. The left coast is on fire. The north just got hit by a blizzard. And that's just here. Elsewhere we had a horrendous earthquake in Pakistan. Bird flu is starting to make its way out of Southeast Asia. Is it time to panic yet?

(Speaking of birds, when one of my cockatiels gets scared, she tries to hide under whatever is handy, which is often my hair. So I've already got live animals on my head...)

Anyway, about this bird flu. Having been caught unprepared when Hurricane Katrina walloped New Orleans, various officials in the US are now making an effort to at least appear to be preparing to deal with the flu pandemic that scientists say will eventually hit the planet. So far the virus wreaking havoc in Asia, known as H5N1, isn't transmitted from person to person; the only way a human can contract the illness, so far, is through contact will infected birds. But influenza viruses mutate, and the fear is that H5N1 — or some other bird flu virus — will acquire the ability to spread directly between infected humans, at which point the pandemic is underway.

Recently scientists have reconstructed the virus that caused the 1918 pandemic (known as the Spanish flu — a misnomer, as it's now thought that the disease originated in the US) and discovered that it is also a bird flu virus. They studied the virus to see if they could learn anything that would help us fight off the newest threat. A little nugget of information from one of the scientists: the 1918 virus provoked a very strong response from an infected person's immune system. While this is generally a good thing, there is evidence that this strong immune response actually damaged the person's lungs, thus making the disease more lethal. Oh, good; not what I wanted to hear. But it does explain why bird flu viruses in general are more deadly than the garden-variety influenzas that make their way around the planet each year.

Even hypochondriacs get sick occasionally.

President Bush and others have been talking about possible measures that could be taken in the event of another pandemic. These measures include quarantining infected areas, closing schools and public buildings, stopping mail delivery and the like. And suddenly we're back in the early 1900s, when only low tech methods existed for fighting disease. This is an eye-opener for those of us who grew up with the idea that modern medicine could handle whatever was thrown at it. Public health officials have begun stockpiling Tamiflu, an anti-viral drug that's used to treat influenza, but recent evidence suggest that H5N1 is developing resistance to the drug. Oh, good; not what I wanted to hear.

So we have one more reason to dread the upcoming flu season. 'Course, the prospect of winter is always cause for concern in the colder parts of the US, and this year we're even more worried than usual. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita took out a good part of the oil refineries along our southern coast, which means we're heading into the cold season with depleted supplies of heating oil and natural gas. The latter is the more worrisome, since you can't just buy more natural gas from global suppliers. So it's off to the store for a supply of wood pellets and firewood. More low tech.

And speaking of which, rising gasoline prices in the US have fuelled (heh, heh) a surge in sales of bicycles. So it's an ill wind, and all that. Not only are we using less gasoline these days — and putting fewer greenhouse gases into the air — we're going to be slimmer and healthier as a result.

So I guess I don't have to hide under the bed along with my worried cockatiel. Not yet, anyway. And winter does have its good points, I suppose. We have the 2006 Winter Olympics to look forward to, assuming the Games aren't cancelled because of bird flu. Wallace and Gromit are about to arrive in the cinema, to be followed in a couple weeks by the latest Harry Potter instalment. A new Lemony Snicket will be out any day now. And there are some more items (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) to add to my Collected Works of Johnny Depp.smiley - winkeye

If I'm going to hide under the bed, there is going to be a lot of stuff under there with me.

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