Flu Epidemic Hits Home

Staff Writer For once, its name doesn’t have “swine” or “bird” or any other vaguely threatening extension to it; this year, it’s just the “flu.” Though it’s name is more understated than normal, the flu has still managed to trigger the usual sense of panic. Panic, during flu season, means buckling under constant media reminders of the Contagion scenario that awaits us. It means kicking into survival mode, and discrediting anyone who alleges “I’m not contagious.” In many ways this sense of panic not only applies to the school environment, but is directed towards it; to many, the idea of hundreds of students in a close-quarters cafeteria is about as germ-free as a petri dish. That being the case, what does our school’s relatively low number of reported flu cases say about this supposed “epidemic”? Granted, our school may be a norm-defying, über-healthy statistical outlier, but that seems unlikely. Maybe our unhealthy intake of Starbucks can be linked to healthier immune systems? Regardless, our history with past flu seasons seems to suggest Latin is not entirely immune. In 2008, Latin was devastated by the “swine flu” epidemic, and struggled with a 13% absentee rate due to the flu. According to Ms. Sabel, the illnesses prompted the school to discuss “strategies [of] continuing education in the event of school closure.” This year, however, there has not been any talk of closing the school, and Ms. Sabel reports that there have been an unusually few number of cases. That said, many people say it’s too early to feel relieved. To them, the most disconcerting aspect of flu season is that the season’s “peak” -expected in late January- is still to come. The height of this “peak” -which we still somehow manage to summit every year- seems to grow more and more exaggerated with each account. It looks like, with so many “peaks,” and fiscal “cliffs,” whatever terrain the media covers seems to be a lot more precarious than reality. Nevertheless, the media can only be partly responsible for our continual state of crisis. The media’s role is really confined to the “awareness” of something; that leaves the interpretation, discussion, and reaction up to us. In the end, how an issue develops is entirely our decision. That being the case, how will we respond to this flu panic? Will we use it to re-examine unhealthy choices? Or, on a larger scale, address global warming’s possible affect on the success and strength of this year’s flu? Because, the truth is, catastrophes and panic are frequent, but effective responses are less common. We see this, in a deeper, more troubling way, in Sandy Hook, and the subsequent gun debate. Looking at these catastrophes, we’re reminded of our limitations -in that, we can’t stop a flu season, or guarantee a school’s safety- but also of our opportunities. Because, in the end, change is like the flu: it can vary in strain and strength, but it’s always contagious.]]>