A Different Kind of Plague

At first there were just a few in southern California. Within a few days they were appearing in New York and Texas. By the beginning of last week, it was nationwide, rapidly spreading to other countries. Now, less than a fortnight since the initial outbreak, it has spread to every corner of the Earth, except of course for North Korea. Swine flu. Not the actual swine flu, mind you — reports about swine flu. The media has contracted the disease and passed it around like a daycare center run by Typhoid Mary. As blogs and stalwart news organizations alike extend their infected RSS feeds, the story has "gone viral," as they say, with the Internet acting as the agar in the petri dish.

Hence why the outbreak hasn't spread to North Korea, which is an information black hole. It's unclear whether they've even heard about it at all, they're still busy celebrating the 40th anniversary of Kim Jong-il's historic solo flight to the moon.

With so much swine flu information bombarding the general public, confusion is inevitable. We here at AN wanted to take a few moments to answer some common questions.

Give it to us straight: Is this swine flu or isn't it? If not, why did we start calling it "swine flu" in the first place? Early reports stated that a few individuals had been infected with a strain of virus that normally only affects pigs, hence the name. Further investigation found that while most of the strain's genetic material comes from swine flu, this was a new strain, sufficiently different to be considered something else. But the damage was done, and every pork chop from Mexico City to the antipodes is now a suspect. The Q Score of the common pig has fallen faster than Phil Spector's.

Won't calling it "Mexican Flu" have the same effect on Mexicans? Probably.

Then what the hell are we supposed to be calling it? The official designation from the World Health Organization is influenza A(H1N1).

Wow. Do they not have anyone on staff with some sort of background in marketing? It would seem that they do not. There has been little guidance on what normal people should call the virus, but allow me to suggest pronouncing it "ahini," like "tahini." Only, you know, without the t.

Should I be avoiding pigs? There is no need, unless the pig is shivering with fever and keeps saying things like, "Oh man, I really think I'm coming down with something," or "Anyone know how to tell if you have swine flu?"

How can I protect myself? You can cover the basics pretty well by remembering what your Mom taught you when you were five: Try not to cough, sneeze, or vomit directly into someone's face. If you feel sick, it's okay to say home. Wash your hands. Stop licking everything.

Does this surgical mask make me look paranoid? Yes. Unless you live in Japan, in which case it makes you look conscientious and polite.

Lately I've been using Purell about a dozen times per day. Will that help? Absolutely, because it's really important that we ensure the emergence a stronger, more resistant virus. That way, everybody wins.

Are you saying that there's no reason to panic? Correct. Everyone should remain calm.

Wouldn't the increased adrenaline brought on by a state of panic help boost the immune system? Fine. Everyone should panic.

What about "Patient Zero," the kid in Mexico who was the earliest confirmed case? Why is he recovering nicely when others aren't? The child almost certainly bio-engineered the flu strain himself — probably in an underground laboratory, although mountain fortress is also possible.

What movies should I definitely not be watching right now? • 28 Days Later • 12 Monkeys • Outbreak • I Am Legend • Babe

Who ends up looking like Nostradamus in all of this? Jules Winnfield. "A sewer rat may taste like pumpkin pie. I'll never know 'cause even if it did, I wouldn't eat the filthy motherfucker. Pigs sleep and root in shit. That's a filthy animal. I don't wanna eat nothin' that ain't got enough sense to disregard its own feces."

I believe I may have contracted the swine flu virus. What should I be twittering? ZOMG I HAS TEH SWINE FLU!! #swineflu #zomg #arod

Bottom line, what have learned from this pandemic? No pathogen could ever spread through the human population as swiftly as it does through the Internet.

So, you do realize that people are actually dying from this thing, right? There have been fatalities, yes. And there will likely be more — particularly in poorer nations that are not adequately prepared for such outbreaks. What's your point?

Well, doesn't that make it a questionable target for satire? ... You know what, I'm not sure I like your tone.

Come on, are you honestly going to sit there and say that you don't feel the slightest pang when making jokes about a disease that's killing people? I'm aware of the disparity, but as Voltaire said, "The art of medicine consists of amusing the patient while nature cures the disease."

Oh shut up, he did not say that. Yes he did! Google it! I can't believe I have to put up with from YOU of all p- .. oh forget it. Screw this, I'm done.

But you haven't even made your "Hamiflu" joke yet. And it looks like I'm not effin' going to, Downer McSadface.