Sunday, September 13, 2009

Swine flu...forever

I think I'm a bright guy and am capable of thinking things through. Still, sometimes I need to hear or read or see something, as per my example below, dozens of times before it really sinks in.

My great epiphany last week was about swine flu, or rather contagious disease and our future.

Many K-bloggers have been describing the over-reaction to swine flu found in Korea. Roboseyo just blogged about the number of swine flu deaths compared to the number of suicides and asked why Koreans weren't investing more in suicide prevention.

At the same time, the ex-pat community has been discussing the lack of hygiene seen in Korea. I'm talking about people using bathrooms but not washing their hands, sneezing or coughing without covering their mouths and sharing food even to the point of all customers for an entire day sharing the same bowl of soy sauce. I'm going to point out here that I need to rub my eyes less and wash my own hands more as well.

Well, Korean officials have not been overreacting to swine flu; they may well be reacting exactly right, but they need to do this forever. This is what globalization is all about, this is what is meant by the cliche, "It's a small world." There will always be another disease on the horizon, people will always be in contact with international travelers and preventative measures will always need to be taken.

SARS, bird flu, swine flu, ... disinfectant gels and infra-red cameras and the rest will be with us til the end. The Asian bow will replace European greetings and even the North American handshake. Maybe online classes will come into their own.

I was told all this again and again since my university biology classes in the '80s but only now, standing in line to have my temperature taken and seeing disinfectant stations at doorways on campus, do I really understand.

One more thing. Matt Ridley wrote a book about the evolution of sex called "The Red Queen". The red queen that Alice in Wonderland met had to run as fast as she could to keep up with the others, to stay in place. One of the explanations for sex in Ridley's book was to shuffle our immunities and cell markers. This kind of evolution is not the sort to change Australopithecus to man but to change the locks on our cells so diseases couldn't get in. For this kind of evolution, our grandfather's locks would work just as well for our grandchildren - as diseases found keys to one set of locks, they lost the keys to the old locks. A newborn, with an entirely new (or very old) immunity suite would be in a better position than a clone, young in body but with a slightly older immunity suite.

Anyway, I wonder how this affects my son. He was born relatively late in my life - I was thirty-eight while my father was in his twenties when I was born. Is he getting a better or worse immunity suite? Will the trend in developed nations of having children later in life make a difference in immunity?


Catherine said...

It will be interesting to see if any of these changes stick.

I've heard other expats hoping that this swine flu scare will bring about the demise of the "blue ball of soap on a stick" in public bathrooms. I'm not sure which is worse: the ball o' soap or no soap at all, no hot water, no paper towels, and either no hand dryer, or one that's not plugged in.

Yesterday at Dunkin' Donuts in Seoul, we received a bottle of hand sanitizer, apparently after we spent a certain amount, since the cashier gave it to Matthew when he bought additional merchandise. Gotta protect the customers that actually spend a significant amount of money.

Daniel Costello said...

Hi Brian!

Totally unrelated: Have you listened to this latest Quirks and Quarks broadcast or read Alanna Mitchell's book, Sea Sick: The Global Ocean in Crisis?

kwandongbrian said...

Catherine, it is a real demotivator to leave the bathroom shaking my hands dry.

Danial, I listened to a bit of it. For some reason iTunes isn't offering the most recent episode. I'd have to say that I haven't missed an episode of Q & Q in years.