The text came at 10:44 p.m. "Go get your flu vaccine," she says, and here we go. It's winter in America again, which means that Flu Hysteria is once again a thing. This happens every year, as the alarmists and the anti-vaxxers administer verbal lashings to each other, all sides armed with dodgy statistics, launching volleys of vitriol, armed with stockpiles of stories from questionable media sources. But this year is a little different, in that there just might be something to it. Or not. I really have no idea-nor, it seems, does anyone else.
This year's flu follies occur against a backdrop of exceptional weirdness, as documented in the global press. The daily paper in Hong Kong, "The Standard," reported on Jan. 11 that the "flu has been on the rise in recent weeks." You never want to see the flu rising, because that's where your nose and mouth are; it's always best to keep it down near the floor. They cite Chinese National Influenza Center (whose annual holiday party, it must be said, is no fun at all), which counted 11,253 cases of flu, a 46 percent increase from the previous week's total of 7,730. Chinese state media reports that "medical organs" (no jokes, please) are being put on alert in case current trends accelerate.
Those numbers don't look good, but the population density can skew our perception of them. So how are things looking in places that don't have a billion people? Well, not so good. Scotland, population 5.4 million, has seen a 75 percent increase in flu cases at the start of the year. The BBC, which is generally quite reliable (unless they're talking-or, not talking, as the case may be-about the massive child-molestation scandal involving their own personnel) cites Health Protection Scotland, which raised the country's flu status from "normal" to "moderate." A 75 percent increase of flu cases in one week, and that's "moderate"? That, right there, is why we all love the Scottish as much as we do.
There were 107 reported cases of influenza per 100,000 Scots (or roughly 5,778 cases overall) in the first week of January. This was up from 46 cases per 100,000 Scots (or roughly 2,484 cases overall) in the last week of December, and that was double the number of the previous week. (Anti-vaxxers, take note: When referring to "cases of flu," I mean cases in which an individual human is diagnosed as having been infected with the flu virus. That is not a reference to the cases of flu virus-like, actual luggage-that some of you think are being shipped around for dosing people in order to perpetuate the elite population-control agenda that you consider to be the real driving force behind the efforts to make sure people get their flu shots every year. Best to be clear on this, even though it's just sad that it's a thing one must be clear on.)
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon (who was neither first, nor an actual minister-she's just a politician, and not a fish) told opposition leaders that levels of winter flu were "currently four times the level recorded in the same week of last year," which might be cause for alarm, but apparently not, as she also said "our NHS is coping admirably." Her remarks come on the heels of ongoing controversy, fueled by the opposition, which is pushing the "flu crisis" gimmick to highlight cuts made to their national health infrastructure, cuts that have been particularly hard for senior citizens, who are more susceptible to flu. Critics have also noted that fewer than half of NHS staff have gotten the flu vaccine themselves, which is about the same percentage as pregnant women.
Sturgeon added, in a remarkable display of verbal dexterity, "I am not standing here saying, and we have not said at any stage, that some patients are not waiting longer during these winter times than we would want them to wait. That is down to the fact that we are facing demand and increases in demand that are unprecedented." This is presumably what she meant by "admirably," if indeed she meant anything at all. There's just no way of really knowing.
This brings me back to that text message from earlier, which came from one of my longtime sources on all matters of health, wellness and emergency response, a veteran trauma nurse working the night shift at a major hospital in Tampa, who henceforth shall be known here as Lupe the Wolf. She commenced to howling about how Trump is crazy and dangerous to all mankind, but we already know that. I wanted to know more about this flu business. "Is it lookin' bad?" I asked.
"Yes," she replied, thumbing her iPhone hastily in fits and spurts whenever she could find a few seconds to spare during her shift. "And the vaccine wasn't quite on target so only about 60 percent effective. Better than nothing. There is IV fluid shortage too because of [Puerto Rico]." I pressed her for mo' deets on the vaccine angle. "Oh. The vaccines are only best guess," based on what they faced in the previous year. "They track the flu that starts in the Southern Hemisphere and try to make the vaccine match."
"So the virus mutates each year," I asked, "meaning the vaccine has to be reformulated?"
"Oh. Yes. It mutates constantly. It can also mutate in the eggs substrate they grow the vaccine in. I think that is what happened this year." Lupe's words echo sentiments expressed by some of the above-mentioned NHS staff, who have eschewed the "jab" because they consider it ineffective. BBC Scotland quoted one General Practitioner who said, "When flu changes to a new strain, the old vaccine no longer works. The evidence is conflicted on the benefits. The [2011 epidemic, which killed 602 people in the UK] still happened despite the vaccination programme."
It was at this point when I figured I'd go ahead and ask if this might be worth writing about. "You should. 21 people have died in California."
"Are you seeing more flu now than this time last year, or more severe cases?"
"Not yet here in Florida. It's coming. California and Texas now. Warm weather has something to do with it." But why? "Because people go out more. I think cold weather kills the virus, too. It is multiple factors." She went on to dispense the standard advice: "Everyone needs to get vaccine. Wash hands. Don't touch face or eyes. Wash hands!!!" This is easy enough, as I'm used to washing my hands a lot, since I spend a lot of time dealing with politicians. But no face-touching? This can be a challenge since, like most members of the media, I'm really vain, and being so handsome doesn't help. Not one bit.
"You can go back to face-touching in the spring," she says. Easy for her to say. She doesn't have to do television, or make public appearances, where a periodic stroke of the beard or occasional tapping of the temple is essential for conveying the intellectual gravitas needed for convincing the general public that pot is medicine, or that jazz music really is making a comeback. And speaking of jazz, you may have heard of an obscure veteran jazz bassist called Lester Holt, whose day job is hosting the NBC Nightly News, which just this week aired a story titled "Deadly flu season pushes hospitals past the limit."
The story began by noting the death of a 21-year-old in Pennsylvania, which is considered a special cause for alarm, as the flu is typically most deadly for children, the elderly and people who fought in the trenches of World War I. (Those damn trenches-good riddance!) For someone so young and healthy-a varsity athlete, in fact-to die is taken by some (including NBC) as anecdotal evidence that this year's flu season could be worse than usual, and that perhaps it already is worse than usual. With hospitals, politicians and the media all now on alert, we hope not.