Category Archives: Flu

Parris Island

I was born in lower Manhattan (just a few blocks from where the World Trade Center would later be built) in October of 1931. My earliest memories are of growing up in Forest Hills, an upper middle class, pleasant neighborhood on Long Island. Life was simple, enjoyable, worry-free.

My father was an internist with an office on Park Avenue. He had deep patriotic instincts and was inspired to join the Naval Medical Reserve about the time I was born and was commissioned a Lieutenant Commander. Life took a dramatic change on December 7, 1941. In what seemed like a matter of minutes, Dad received orders to report for active duty early January in the Marine boot training camp on Parris Island, SC. Within days he had to get his new uniform from Brooks Brothers, arrange for another doctor to take over his practice, get ready for Christmas for my sibs and me, and get himself out the door and down Highway 17 to South Carolina. Meanwhile Mother had to pack all her dishes, etc. in barrels in the basement, rent the house and get ready to move my sister and brother and me to follow at the semester break the end of January.

What I remember most that a friend drove us to Pennsylvania Station on a miserable evening with freezing rain to give us a cold send-off. My mother and sister slept on the lower bed of a pullman car while my younger brother and I slept on the upper bunk. But in the morning when I looked out the window, we were in Virginia and the sun was shining. Wow! That afternoon the train arrived at the whistle-stop town of Yemassee, SC where Dad was there to meet us in his trusty 1941 black Dodge sedan. He drove us to our new home on the island. It was a single story affair with a screened porch on two sides where I slept in the warmer weather and listened to the buglers around the island play a nameless tune at 9:00 PM and taps at 10:00.

Although I was only 10, I remember how impressed Dad was when he came home and reported that there was a case of spinal meningitis in a recruit. At that time it was not only highly contagious but essentially untreatable and with a very high mortality rate. No antibiotics then. But there was sulfadiazine and this was given prophylactically to everyone(?). Anyway, Dad was mightily impressed with that seeming miracle of stopping a threatened epidemic in its tracks. I’m sure he well remembered the influenza pandemic beginning in September, 1918 that exploded in a similar military camp in Camp Funston, KS, since he graduated from medical school about the same time.

My mother, who was raised in New York City, used to tell about meeting a friend who would say something like, “Did you hear that Bill died last Tuesday.” And Mother would say, “How could that be? I just saw him a week ago and he looked fine.” It is hard for me to imagine what it was like to live when the possibility of a random strike of lightning could hit you with a rapidly fatal illness like influenza. We can be happy that we live in an age where that does not happen in this country while continuing to remind ourselves that the possibility of a new pandemic hangs over our heads like the Sword of Damocles. Carpe diem! Make every day count.

Cheers!


Visit Brevis.com

Image by USMC Archives, Platoon 903, Parris Island, 1942

Contributing Factors to the Flu Season

Except for it being “Flu Season”, I love the winter months.

If you live near 40°′N like I do, undoubtedly you’ve experienced some snow this season, to which not a single person has a neutral opinion. Personally, I’ve crossed zero several times in my life. Starting with love for fluffy white playful snow as a child, moving swiftly into a deep hatred for a biting, slushy, wintery death while walking to school in canvas shoes, and finally back to love for a nostalgically snowy day as an adult.

Currently I’m a huge fan of snow, though not for any of the reasons I could have predicted, much less reasons good enough to write a blog article, but here we go anyway. I like driving in the snow (though I hate when other people drive in the snow), I like watching the accumulation of a winter wonderland as snow falls across the streetlamps at night, and I enjoy the human surrender to nature as we dig all of our heavy clothing out of storage and attire ourselves ritualistically for the smallest tasks. I won’t go anywhere without my boots. If you see me in snow without them, destroy the imposter, or check for signs of meningitis.

New Posters

Heating Your Home

The heat in my house is off until the first sunny day in March. Some people find that strange. Nearly all others think it’s criminal. This habit serves me twice: I save quite a bit of money on utilities, and it dissuades nearly all pesky pop-ins. I own plenty of warm clothing that stays in storage most of the year, and I like to use it occasionally. I won’t go as far as to say I’m reclusive, but I do spend the majority of my time alone, in the dark, trying to stay warm. On the plus side, I rarely get sick. With so few people coming in and out of my house, the opportunity for germ transfer in these sickly winter months is highly reduced.

So why am I completely miserable, smelling like an herbal tea factory, sweating and shivering at the same time? Well it turns out that it could be my fault. Whoever said I can’t take accountability for my actions?

All About Germs

I didn’t grow up knowing a lot about germs, then again I didn’t grow up knowing a lot about most things. It turns out there are several factors that contribute to what we affectionately call “flu season”. Among these are the usual suspects: 

I don’t doubt the contributions of these well studied factors, but my lifestyle leads me to believe there’s another player in the game. I don’t spend time with anyone else, and it’s not like I see a lot of sun during the hot months anyway.

Winter Gear

It turns out that my beloved winter gear that keeps me alive for three months of the year, forgotten for nine, is a suitable suspect. It’s generally agreed, or at least intuitively good practice, that coats, hats, and gloves should be washed more often than most most people likely do. Not because you’re gross (though you probably are), but because those are often overlooked items that live in the back of a closet, emerging only in desperate times, and forgotten again just as quickly. I would venture a guess that most people don’t think to properly wash and store their winter clothing. Partly because the winter season often still makes brief and occasionally devastating appearances all the way through a stormy Spring, and partly because it’s not the kind of thing that comes to mind during the first blissfully warm day of the year.

While performing average activities during an unremarkable day, people have been shown to touch their faces up to 16 times per hour. That seems high initially, but I’ve been very conscious of my face since I started writing this article and at this point I think the number could easily be much higher. Most people could stand a reeducation on hand-washing. And though folks aren’t washing their hands well enough, or often enough, they’re certainly washing their hands more often than they’re washing their gloves.

Remember as you go about your day, touching things, that the same germs that you would normally collect on your hands are now on your gloves. The germ accumulation on gloves over the period of a few weeks is surely much higher than even improperly washed hands. So what can you do? Wash your gloves, hats, and coats! And while you’re at it, brush up on your hand washing habits in general.

I’ll be under the blankets until this whole thing blows over.

Can the holidays make you sick?

What makes us get sick more often during the holiday season?

Many theories have been postulated and studied over the years and many factors are blamed for being virus enablers. Closer proximity of hosts (us) within closed spaces makes transmission easier due to the shared air we breathe while indoors and the common surfaces we touch as people share confined areas. Further, foods are presented and ingested in areas with higher germ populations due to the foregoing.

Other theories suggest that inactivity and depression generally increases with the cold and gloomy weather and this coupled with decreased exposure to the sun may tend to inhibit our immune systems.

We suspect that all of these factors and more contribute to the seasonal spike in illnesses. But, there are some commons sense actions that can help reduce your chances of being the next holiday (infection) host. The most effective way to reduce your risks of seasonal sickness is to wash your hands often, especially after shaking hands, touching surfaces in common areas such as handrails and countertops and especially before eating.

In the spirit of holiday cheer (and microbial fear) check out these funny new flu and handwashing posters meant to remind with mirth and good cheer.

Healthy holidays to all.


New Flu & Handwashing Posters

 

Image of flu close up by cdc.gov.

Flu Education – Another Anniversary?

2018 – Another Anniversary?

Anniversaries. To celebrate or just to observe?

2018 is the fortieth anniversary of the incorporation of Brevis. Yeah!

2018 is the anniversary of the end of World War One.

Great Influenza Pandemic

But 2018 is also the one-hundredth anniversary of the Great Influenza Pandemic. And a dramatic start of a hundred years war that has no end in sight. World-wide this pandemic claimed somewhere between 20 and 100 million victims in 1918-1919. Pick your source to pick your number.

In previous essays we have shown how the flu predisposed us to World War II by disabling Woodrow Wilson during the writing of the Treaty of Versailles. We have also talked about the search by intrepid scientists for the original virus which took them to frozen corpses in Brevig Mission, Alaska. The virus may have been identified but that does not explain how the original epidemic starting in Fort Funston, Kansas was quite mild and then became much more virulent in subsequent outbreaks. One thing is clear: Army forts were crowded with new recruits who were destined for Europe. Crowding was ideal for spread of this virus.

The highly mutable virus appears to have a natural host in ducks and ducks seem happy to share with chickens and pigs. Of which multitudes reside in China. So we go to China to discover each year which strains are on the current hit parade so that we can develop effective flu vaccines. Maybe this is how China is demonstrating the importance of their trade with the US. Or is it just a free gift as a way of saying Thank You for all the other goodies we import from them?

Wash Your Hands

Regardless of all the ins and outs of influenza – and all other infectious diseases – the best we can come up with for prevention are proper hand hygiene and vaccination. As the decades roll by replete with outbreaks of new often more virulent strains of nasties the most effective strategy remains the same. Wash your hands. Wash them often. Wash them well.

Happy Anniversaries!

Gordon Short, MD
Brevis Corporation
13 November 2018


New Flu Posters