OMFG: Cats and the Plague

Article: Man Gets Plague From Stray Cat

A Scary Snippet:

Gaylord’s illness began after he saw a stray cat with a dead mouse jammed in the back of his throat. The cat appeared to be choking, so Gaylord and a friend attempted to dislodge the mouse. The distressed cat bit his hand. Unable to remove the mouse, Gaylord shot Charlie to end his suffering and buried him in the yard. Two days later, he awoke with a fever and chills.

He spent nearly a month on life support and only recently left the intensive care unit. At one point, doctors thought he was going to die, said Debbie Gaylord, his wife.

Do Not Put Hand Here

I guess the lesson here is not to stick your hand down the mouth of a stray cat.  Probably you shouldn’t stick your hand down the mouth of your pet cat either.  Just a hunch, but I don’t think cats like this sort of attention.  Just always assume everything is diseased and you will be safe. You might also be paranoid all the time but that’s a small price to pay.  And whatever you do, do NOT google pictures of “plague.”

Update: This is a frivolous observation compared to the fact this man will likely lose all his fingers but this is the only article I have found so far that gave the now deceased stray cat a name.

CDC Plague Page

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More on Infected Zombies

Salon has a good article on “plague movies” and how they relate to our panic over the swine flu.  Some of my favorite excerpts that articulate my crazy fears better than I would:

“What most if not all of these movies share is a gloomy atmosphere of isolation and paranoia. The culture so carefully built by man over the centuries has either completely disappeared or is vanishing rapidly. Stores are closed and, very likely, have been looted. Our traditional means of law and order have disappeared. There’s no more garbage pickup. The military and the government are usually somehow involved — ostensibly, they’re trying to keep order, but mostly they’re  just leading people to their doom.

These movies do more than just lay out chilly what-if scenarios. Some of them are steeped in biblical morality: How do we react when we see fellow human beings in pain? When we see someone in danger — a feverish individual, say, who may or may not be a zombie — do we stop to help if doing so threatens our own safety, or do we opt for self-preservation? In most plague movies, there’s deep mistrust of “the other,” the outsider who may be infected (and it’s often an outsider who started it all). Those kinds of stark divisions raise even bigger questions, sometimes amounting to a kind of civics lesson: What is it that keeps a society together, even if it’s just a society of a dozen or so healthy (that is to say, uninfected) people?

And maybe that’s why a real-life virus scare and a wholly fictional movie elicit the same response in us: Both make us think about coming face-to-face with our own sense of aloneness.”

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Pestilence in Perspective

And so at the end of the day, there is this nagging fear in the back of the head, that this is it. This is going to be the big one. But then I am reminded that this has happened before, and will happen again.  Let’s review– mainly for the purpose of making me feel better about the current state of affairs.

1348 [The Black Death/The Bubonic Plague]: This is one of my favorites.  Grim, gross, and thousands of years ago.  Spread by fleas and rats (already that’s pretty gross), this killed an estimated 25 million people.  An Italian writer who lived through the plague described it like this:

“…it began…with certain swellings in the groin or under the armpit. They grew to the size of a small apple or an egg…In a short space of time these tumours spread from the two parts named all over the body. Soon after this the symptoms changed and black or purple spots appeared on the arms or thighs or any other part of the body, sometimes a few large ones, sometimes many little ones. These spots were a certain sign of death…”

1918 [Spanish Flu]: or what I would like to call “the big bad wolf.”  Over 50 million people died.  ” Some people who felt well in the morning became sick by noon, and were dead by nightfall.” Terrifying.  The Spanish Flu also fancied young, healthy adults who are usually less likely to become seriously ill due to the flu.

1957 [Asian Flu]: Much milder, if you can call it that, with global death estimates at 2 million.  During the first wave of this epidemic, the highest infection rates were among children, who spread the illness within their schools.  The second wave effected mostly the elderly.

1968 [Hong Kong Flu]: Also known as H3N2, it is estimated to have caused 1 million deaths worldwide.  The elderly were most likely to die and deaths occurred in large numbers during 2 separate winters.

2009 [H1N1]: We have been thrust back into history and it’s pretty exciting…and terrifying of course.

“… we tell ourselves that pestilence is a mere bogy of the mind, a bad dream that will pass away. But it doesn’t always pass away and, from one bad dream to another, it is men who pass away…”

Several months ago, I read The Plague by Albert Camus with morbid fascination and horror.  Though the circumstances and the disease are different today, I feel the same sense of horror and awe Camus captures so perfectly.  Except that now it is real, it is tangible to me, and my head is spinning.  Truthfully, my head has spinning since the first news story broke about this and I have tried to read every single news story possible which is obviously making me more panicked, but I can’t help it.

I know the regular flu kills thousands of people worldwide annually.  I am aware this virus has not killed as many as SARS, nor have any of the other past “epidemic/pandemic scares” we have had in the last decade.  I have read the statistics on drunk diving deaths, accidental deaths, and all have caused many more tragedies that the swine flu.  Yet, I find absolutely none of this information comforting (unfortunately for me).

Today, there has been at least one confirmed case of the swine flu in Spain contracted by someone who had not visited Mexico.  Add to that the first U.S. death of a toddler caused by the swine flu, and the hundreds of deaths in Mexico likely caused by this flu, and I am completely freaked out.

“The UN health agency has been closely monitoring the progress of the new H1N1 virus to see whether there was sustained person-to-person transmission outside Mexico, where the outbreak appears to have started.

“Once there is, the WHO will notch up its threat alert to declare a phase five pandemic, one step short of a phase six or global pandemic. “We are moving that way, but I don’t think we are there yet,” Keiji Fukuda, the WHO assistant director-general, said tonight.”

What I find most concerning is that pandemics come in waves.  The first wave of the pandemic (which I believe we are seeing right now) is usually mild, compared to the later waves.  Viruses are super-tricky and may go underground for several months, then reemerge as better and stronger viruses adept at taking complete control of their hosts.  (That means us, unfortunately.)

I am certain that we will see this current influenza strain infect many more in the coming days through person-to-person transmission, and that with enough time, this virus will learn how to successfully kill the bodies it inhabits.
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