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Published:October 19th, 2009 10:34 EST
Swine Flu Treatment, Japanese-Style

Swine Flu Treatment, Japanese-Style

By Geoff Dean

 In my various offerings (some burnt) to this point, I have studiously avoided medical issues, along with economics, the environment, and several other topics, based on the opinion that those might be better left to people who know squat about them. I don`t. By the way, which is worse, "he doesn`t know squat" and "he doesn`t know diddley"? I assume "he doesn`t know diddley squat" tops them both.

 Be that as it may, there is a swine flu epidemic going on in Japan or at least, you would believe so, to listen to the conversations of housewives at my language school here in Tokyo. In the light of such panic, I thought it wise to look into the ways in which Japanese people are trying to deal with the "pandemic".

 The most visible way is the wearing of surgical masks. Recently, at sporting events, concerts, other gatherings, and especially on the super crowded commuter trains, people can be seen wearing surgical masks. Of course, Japan is one of the few countries in the world, perhaps the only (OK, I didn`t actually check on this-sue me!), where it is not uncommon for people to wear surgical masks in public. When the Aum cultists launched their sarin gas attak on the Tokyo subway system, they wore surgical masks to hide their identities but it was so commonplace that no one even noticed. Recently, there are even brightly colored and/or designed surgical masks although I have yet to see a "Hello Kitty" one yet. My point, to the extent that I have one, is that the most popular method for preventing the spread of swine flu in Japan is to wear a surgical mask in public. So much so that recently drug stores are having to ration them out, allowing one customer to buy only two packs of masks (how long before a black market in masks breaks out?)

 Another way is the ubiquitous alcohol hand spray. Almost every shop, library, post office, bank, etc. now features an alcohol spray at the entrance. Still, since usage is not mandatory, I wonder how effective it is.

 To me, the most dubious repsonse, and in some ways, the most "Japanese" (OK, that`s not a pc comment, I admit. Shame on me. As a matter of fact, doom, despair, and agony on me..Deep dark depression, incessant misery...If it weren`t for bad luck, I`d....OK, I`ll stop now) response has been to shorten various events. For instance, the local junior high school rummage sale, an annual event, was shortened from its regular 4 hours to only 1 and a half. The reason, as explained by the principal, repeated by the vice principal, again by the PTA chairperson, followed up by the rummage sale organizing committee head, and ultimately, by the director of the booth where I was stationed, was to "prevent the spread of swine flu". Cancelling the event, I understand. Shortening it? Does swine flu take time to transmit? Did some scientist point out that 1 and a half hours was the safest length of contact with others? I hope not since there was an hour of preparation beforehand and another afterwards.

 Could it be that the surgical masks and the alcohol sprays and the shortened events are just ways of saying "we tried" just in case someone does come down with swine flu? We did our best and it wasn`t our fault and so on.

 On a personal level, my daughter came down with swine flu and spent five days in bed but at the end recovered and is now as healthy as ever. My family was sure we would all catch it but we didn`t. Here`s hoping you dont, either! Just in case you are concerned, as far as I have heard, there is no known case of swine flu transmission over the Internet but you might want to wash your hands and put on a mask after you read this, just to be on the safe side.