Fleeing the Flu for Margaritaville

By Kathleen Parker
Wednesday, May 6, 2009

IN THE MIAMI AIRPORT -- Against the advice of our vice president, I have braved the germ-infested world, forced into transit by prior commitments and surrounded by strangers who may not recently have washed their hands.

My own, of course, are scabbed from repeated scrubbing through all four lines of "Happy Birthday to You," which, my epidemiologist neighbor tells me, is how long you have to keep the soap on your hands to do any good.

At this writing, I am sequestered in a small, partitioned area of Miami International Airport. I have just downed my second vial of ImmuGo -- the immune system-boosting superdose of vitamins and minerals "famous among celebrities," according to the package. I figure celebrities know what they're doing when it comes to warding off germs.

Otherwise, I'm more or less trying not to breathe.

Thus far, I have not donned a face mask, but my tote contains 10 respirator-type masks that, if worn, would so frighten people that their germs would scramble to avoid me.

Such is life on the road during "The Age of Pandemics."

That was the Wall Street Journal headline on Saturday, when I began my journey. On the same day, The Post devoted about two pages to the virus, which we should no longer call "swine flu," out of deference to our porcine friends, which were being slaughtered for no reason whatsoever. We don't get swine flu from swine, apparently.

But it's easier to get hysterical over something named for a beast best known for unhygienic behavior than the less-horrifying H1N1, the official name of the virus formerly believed to be a crisis. It may yet become scary, we are forced to admit, but for now, H1N1 appears to be no worse than regular flu. The rate of contagion is in about the same range as the rates of other strains.

Yet the stories with which all are now familiar have been screaming panic. And so we have panicked -- closing schools, eschewing shopping and otherwise behaving oddly.

Ahem. Not only have I packed enough medical paraphernalia to supply a small Caribbean island, but I hold my fellow man in less than compassionate esteem. I am not alone.

In the Restroom: I notice the women on either side of me washing their hands. Their lips are moving. I recognize "Feliz cumpleaƱos."

On the Plane: The woman next to me pulls out her Purex as I unwrap one of my handy instant-sanitizing wipes. We smile at each other with a mixture of understanding and embarrassment. As a mother and baby pass, the little darling turns her runny nose toward us and coughs as though possessed by snarling demon dogs.

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