Saturday, January 8, 2011

CSI: Influenza

On Monday, January 2nd I awoke at 3:00am GMT to find my head pounding and my throat on fire. It was 5 hours before I had to take a flight back to Boston from London so going back to sleep was impossible. As I lay there fuming about being mugged by a drive-by flu virus, I began to construct a mental CIS-style investigation of where I could have picked up the offending virus. Everyone knows that colds and flu viruses (apart from Swine Flu) take 7-10 days to incubate. I totted up the requisite numbers and found myself on Xmas Eve in a bar in MA - before going to see True Grit (great film, BTW).
Possible Crime Scene (PCS) #1: We were having a beer and some lunch when a couple came in and sat down next to us. The man was coughing and hacking up a storm, so I suggested we move. My husband knowingly responded that the germs would travel up to 25 feet anyway so what was the point. (I was planning to sit BEHIND him, as it happens, but never mind.) We stayed put. Was he the offender?
PCS #2: Logan Airport. A very kindly British Airways employee upgraded us to Business Class. We giddily waved him a merry Xmas and went to the departures lounge where we sat in front of a woman with obvious laryngitis and a child (I guessed a boy and was correct) who had a broken, wet cough and was hacking up a storm. The kid had clearly not taken the slightest bit of notice of the Swine Flu posters all over the airport, as he was neither covering his mouth nor coughing into his armpit or elbow. Since he was sitting BEHIND me, could he have been the possible culprit?
PCS #3: Westfield Mall, London. We trotted off with mum-in-law in tow to hit Marks and Spencer's at the glorious new mall in Shepherd's Bush. (It has done precisely nothing to gentrify that area, BTW.) All around us swirled crowds of frantically shopping Brits and tourists, hoping to snag a bargain before VAT goes up by 2.5%. The number of people coughing and hacking was alarmingly high.
PCS #4, 5, 6: We saw three plays in crowded theatres: Yes, Prime Minister (hilarious, although the second lead was out ill...hmmm), Potted Panto (a scream) and The Rivals (disappointingly boring). In all three instances there was one or two loud coughers in the audience. Maybe too late to have been the offenders?
After spending most of the following week in bed I went to see the doctor, where the nurse told me I should have had a flu shot. Well, Duh. Then, yesterday, my husband - the knowledgeable one about how far flu germs can travel who HAS had a flu shot, of course - came down with the same virus. He is now sweating and swearing in bed about the offending mugger.
Lessons learned?
*A flu shot does NOT protect you from all types of flu, particularly if you are travelling.
*People are NOT heeding the US and UK government warnings about staying at home if they are ill and possibly contagious. Nor are they paying the slightest attention to the posters telling them how not to transmit disease.
*Net transatlantic flight I will pretend to be Muslim (although the blond hair is a bit of a giveaway) and wear a scarf over a medical mask.
* In future I will wash my hands more, if that's even possible. And not sit at bars during flu season. Or go to the theatre or shopping malls, or restaurants. I feel a Caribbean beach beckoning for Xmas 2011.

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