By Michael O’Morrow
Must be swine flu.
Swine flu is the catch phrase of 2009. Unlike the uplifting catch phrase of 2008 “Yes We Can” “swine flu” sounds bad. Barack Obama rode his catch phrase to the White House. Many Canadians will think “swine flu” when they get a runny nose.
To many people, the H1N1 virus remains a mystery. Despite living in an age of almost limitless information, many people struggle to identify the symptoms of H1N1 infection, how it is transmitted, and how you can be protected.
To prove this point, I ran a survey of Kwantlen students. I wanted to get a sense of what our students knew about the virus, and what, if any, misconceptions still existed.
One of the early beliefs about the swine flu was that you could get it by eating pork products. People stopped buying pork from their local grocery store, pigs were slaughtered, and the Canadian pork industry suffered. Eventually that myth was debunked, people once again bought bacon, and the industry survived.
19 per cent of respondents to the survey still believed you can get “swine flu” from eating pork.
I chose to run the survey on Oct. 26 because it coincided with the launch of Health Canada’s H1N1 vaccination program. It was widely broadcast who, when, and where you could get it.
24 per cent of respondents didn’t know of an available vaccination. Of those who did, none knew when they could get it.
The onset of symptoms of H1N1 infection is very rapid. In severe cases, symptoms can appear within three to six hours. Otherwise, symptoms are similar to the seasonal flu, including cough, fever, muscle aches, sore throat, and a runny nose. Sometimes, but not always, people infected by H1N1 experience vomiting, diarrhea, and nausea.
Thirty-eight per cent of students surveyed believed that vomiting, diarrhea, and nausea are always present with H1N1 infection, and 62 per cent believed the onset of symptoms was very slow.
Kwantlen has thousands of students, staff, and faculty working together daily, who, each in turn, come in contact with dozens of people in their outside lives. Ignorance in this case is not bliss – it affects the lives of our colleagues, friends, and family. As November approaches and students face second midterms, project deadlines and final exams, we struggle to find time to exercise and eat right, and many lack adequate sleep. We become vulnerable to cold and flu viruses, and that is when we need to be aware.
The question we face now is whether to get the vaccination or not. The choice is ultimately up to the individual. Health Canada has deemed the shot to be safe and effective in the fight against H1N1. It was made available on Oct. 26 to people with pre-existing medical conditions, pregnant women, and people living in remote communities. In the second week, health care workers and children between six months and four years will have access to the immunization. By the middle of November, the shot will be made available to everyone who wants it. The shot is available at health clinics throughout the Lower Mainland. For more information, contact your physician.
Every action, or inaction, has a consequence. Our lack of knowledge, or in the harshest sense our ignorance, has a consequence. Students have a lot to lose for their ignorance. As of Oct. 27, 89 people have died in Canada due to H1N1 infection, and over 5000 have died worldwide. We are experiencing a pandemic. It is our responsibility to protect ourselves and each other from infection.
H1N1 is transmitted by coughing and sneezing – please, cover your mouth and nose. Experts agree that the best prevention against H1N1 infection is proper sanitation – please, wash your hands, clean hard surfaces, and use the sanitation stations the university has made available.
As the second wave of the outbreak infects B.C., we have an opportunity to better educate and protect ourselves and each other, and to limit the damage caused by this virus. The effects of swine flu have been negative, but our response – our attitude and our actions – can be positive.
Can we do it?
Yes we Can.
Now that’s catchy.