*A mysterious virus has entered the United States via a commercial airline flight.
Passengers on the international flight unknowingly carried the virus to their friends, family and anybody else who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The virus turns people into vampires (yes, vampires) who sleep during the day and prey on victims at night. A few employees who work at the Center for Disease Control and some other people in the know are the last line of defense against this plague.
I’m not talking about the Ebola virus of west Africa. I’m talking about The Strain, a television show on the FX Channel. Yet when I learned about the Liberian man who is the first confirmed case of Ebola in the United States and how he might have spread the deadly disease to more than 100 people in Dallas, I couldn’t help but recognize the parallel between fiction and real life – except the part about vampires. Add to that the fact that I’m a flight attendant who lives in Dallas and my science-fiction imagination has been working overtime. But enough about my imagination.
American health officials say even though Ebola has found its way into the United States it’s not an airborne virus. So even if I happened to be one of the flight attendant’s on Liberian national Thomas Eric Duncan’s flight into Dallas – which I wasn’t – it doesn’t mean I should be quarantined. Especially since Duncan didn’t show signs of the illness until after he arrived in my city. But just like on The Strain, government officials oftentimes are the last to know the truth and sometimes when they find out the truth they’re not inclined to share.
As much as I like a good sci-fi mystery, the facts are that more people die every year from common illnesses such as the flu than have died from Ebola. Precautions against the flu virus are easy to take. But as with most things that are easy to do, its also easy not to do.
Simple precaution number one: Wash your hands often, especially before eating, after using the bathroom and in between sneezing or putting your fingers to your eyes and mouth. I grew up in a family where it was mandatory that we wash our hands before going into the refrigerator, let alone preparing food. I wish you would go into my grandmother’s refrigerator touching on stuff without washing your hands. Adrian Peterson ain’t got nothing on my grandmother and her switches. And washing your hands after using the bathroom was non-negotiable.
So imagine my surprise when, while on vacation, I headed to the bathroom at a restaurant to wash my hands after ordering my food and I was told the bathroom was out of order.
Now I’m no restauranteur, but even I know having a functioning bathroom with running water in a restaurant is a health code mandatory rule. So there I was sliding out of my booth with my finger on the keypad about to sound the alarm. But when I pressed the staff about it, the manager allowed me to wash my hands in a sink accessible to employees only. It turned out there was running water, but the commode had stopped working a few hours earlier so they closed down the bathroom. And the manager already had called maintenance.
Okay, my hands were clean and those of the staff (so they claimed). But why wasn’t there a line of patrons at the sink? Apparently nobody else cared enough about simple precaution number one to inquire. Or maybe everybody else used hand sanitizer. Or maybe their hands were a petri dish of germs and they were okay with that.
Simple precaution number two: Avoid direct contact with commonly-used surfaces. A recent study published in the Wall Street Journal revealed that coffee pot handles, bathroom door knobs and light switches were full of germs at one office complex. The non-lethal germ intentionally was left on the keypad used to enter the front door of the secured office complex. Within four hours the germ had been spread to more than fifty percent of the common areas of that office, including on the hands of employees who had not come in direct contact with each other that day.
Using paper towels to open doors, using knuckles and elbows instead of fingers to punch keypads or elevator buttons are ways to get around direct contact with common areas that might be full of germs. And when it comes to shaking hands in the workplace this study suggests bumping fists instead. It’s times such as these when I appreciate the janitorial staff even more.
Since it’s next to impossible to deflect all germs, simple precaution number three is to strengthen your immune system and lower the chance that a virus will reek havoc on your body. Drinking lots of water, eating leafy, green vegetables and making exercise a part of your life will give your body a fighting chance against the most common viruses.
Simple precaution number four is to provide your lungs with plenty of fresh air. It’s been proven that germs, viruses and even cancer can’t survive in a body that’s full of oxygen. Go walking, swimming or do activities that cause you to take deep breathes every day.
Simple precaution number five is to get a flu shot before the flu season. But just because you get a flu shot – a small dose of the virus that is introduced into your body to allow your immune system to create its own antibodies against it – doesn’t mean you should ignore standard hygiene practices, which include the aforementioned.
If we spend more time practicing healthy behaviors every day and teach them to our children there’s a smaller chance that our health will be compromised by the next virus to be discovered.
Steffanie is a freelance journalist living in the Dallas, Texas metro area. Email her at [email protected] for comments, questions or speaking inquiries.