Coronavirus Is Just Another “Flu”

[Warning: medical models and vintage tools]

It is, sort of. The thing is that it’s a “flu” nobody has resistance to. Usually the flu comes through every year and a few people die – more than have died, so far, of the coronavirus. The difference is emotional – it’s the difference between squirting blood from an arterial wound, and having a bloody nose. We’ve all had bloody noses and we know how to handle them and mostly, we’ll be OK.

As I mentioned the other day, I’ve had adult onset chicken pox, followed by pneumonia, and it was not very nice. [stderr] I’ve been remembering that experience a lot lately, and I realized the other night that one possibility never occurred to me at all: that I might die. If I had died, I probably would have experienced it as taking a nap with a surprise ending that I missed. I may have been on drugs of some sort; I have no idea.

A friend of mine’s a radiologist in a hospital and he and I were chatting by text message about how people in medicine are feeling about the whole thing. His attitude was similar to what I said about flu: it’s a really particularly shitty flu that’s about twice as bad as the one you usually get. Then, he mentioned that there are shots you can get for pneumonia that reduce the chance you’ll have opportunistic infections if you’re sick with a flu (or coronavirus). I’m looking into PPSV23 on monday: [cdc]

Vaccines help prevent pneumococcal disease, which is any type of illness caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria. There are two kinds of pneumococcal vaccines available in the United States:

  • Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine or PCV13
  • Pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine or PPSV23

CDC recommends PCV13 for all children younger than 2 years old and people 2 years or older with certain medical conditions. Adults 65 years or older also can discuss and decide, with their clinician, to get PCV13.

CDC recommends PPSV23 for all adults 65 years or older, people 2 through 64 years old with certain medical conditions, and adults 19 through 64 years old who smoke cigarettes.

I’ve been doing flu shots every year on the basis that, when I used to be a consultant, any time I lost from work due to sickness was money out the window. Also, infecting your clients is not good capitalism.

He has taken to not touching his face and wearing nitrile gloves during the parts of the day when he’s in contact with other people. Particularly, grocery shopping. Last night, when we were talking, Pennsylvania did not have any outbreaks (that anyone knew of) but today there are at least two. I’m shocked that Italy has put “all of Northern Italy” on lockdown. It looks like nationalism works well for competing colonial powers, but does not lend itself to effective disaster response in general or response to pandemics or climate crisis in particular.

Out here in rural Pennsylvania, I suspect the odds are good that the local CVS will have PPSV23 available, and I’ll give it a shot (so to speak) because I am fortunate that I can afford to hedge my bets. Unfortunately, this is christian country, so there is a lot of ignorance: republicanism, racists who fly confederate flags, and anti-vaxxers. It’s interesting how particular kinds of ignorance tend to cluster together in the pockets where authoritarian religions are able to influence education, isn’t it?

Here’s another tip/thought I’ve been working on. If you’re worried about the pandemic, it’s probably not a bad idea to steer away from fresh food just for a couple of weeks. I’m fortunate because I keep a 2-3 month supply of Kitchens of India pre-packaged curries sitting in the basement. That’s not because I’m a prepper, it’s because when I used to travel a lot I’d get home sometimes at 2am and be hungry and tired and lazy, and Kitchens of India is freakin’ delicious. If you add a bit of rice on the side, or make your own quick naan bread, then you can have a feast and give your cases of MREs (Meal: Ready To Eat) to some prepper and you can watch them choke on that garbage while you have rajma masala with sriracha sauce on jasmine rice. [The other reason I have so much is because I experimented with Amazon subscriptions and got a load delivered every month for 6 months] Anyhow, the thing is this: if you buy canned foods and stuff that’s packaged, you can disinfect it by the simple expedient of leaving it in the sun for a couple of hours. UV kills all the things and it’s a lot easier than spraying your food with 10% bleach solution.

Treating syphillis with mercury [source]

Since I’ve had pneumonia twice in my life, I’m not worried about coronavirus, it’s the pneumonia that scares the shit out of me. If you’re also older and/or not in great health and you’re worried about the pandemic, you might want to ask your doctor about pneumonia vaccines.

This is a victorian device for spritzing silver nitrate up your urethra. Aren’t you glad that we had effective antibiotics during our lifetimes? [I assume there was more apparatus and some india rubber hoses and bellows, laissez les bon temps rouler!]

Anderson’s urethral irrigator, nickel plated brass, English, 1920-1940. Graduated matt black background.

Or, if you want to drink silver, you can contact me via email and I’ll send you a few crystals of silver nitrate.

For the time being, you’re still more likely to be shot by a police officer than to die of coronavirus. So instead of wearing a breath mask, wear body armor and tactical sneakers.

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Silver nitrate was also used as a “cure” for syphillis during the victorian age. That, in fact, was how Fox Talbot figured out it was photosensitive: people would be given a huge dose to drink and they’d turn black in the sun. They also used to drink mercury. Perhaps that’s what’s been eating Trump’s brain.

Did you hear the one about the anti-vaxxer goth? They wouldn’t listen to The Cure.


  1. sonofrojblake says

    One of my best friends commented thus: “

    In the office, I just read this and said ‘shit’. The senior lecturer in Infection and Immunity now gives you permission to be slightly uneasy. However, this is normal transmission dynamics so not unexpected. If you do get it, it will be just like the flu. The issue is ensuring we limit spread if we are ill to protect vulnerable groups, those with underlying health conditions. To be blunt, the best thing from a statistical epidemiology stances is lots of us get it. Disease modelling looks at susceptible to infected to immune, remove the susceptible and the virus has nowhere to replicate because most of us are now immune. In lectures I use the analogy of a forest fire and fire-breaks.”

    On his advice, I’m now slightly uneasy.

  2. says

    On his advice, I’m now slightly uneasy.

    Yes. I’m going to look into getting the pneumonia vaccine, if only because it lets me feel like I did something semi-smart. It’s also a good idea to curtail travel as entertainment; Anna and I were planning to go museuming in NYC or DC this spring, and would have probably taken a lot of public transport – suddenly maybe that doesn’t look like a brilliant scheme. The main issue there, I believe, is that it would suck extra bad to get really sick in Washington DC and to be stuck trying to ride out a virus in an overpriced hotel in a city full of stupid republicans who want to vacuum bag you or something highly intelligent like that. So, Anna and I have some plans, which are fluid, but basically sound like: “if you get sick I’ll drop everything and come down and look after you and the cat.” It’s easy to say “it’s just like the flu” but there are subtleties: you want someone (even if you have the flu!) to be there to keep an eye on your temperature so you don’t come out with brain damage.

    I suppose I should repeat my PSA: have applesauce in the house. If you’re throwing up it’s the best thing to throw up because it tastes the same going up as down and it buffers your throat from the acids. Also, it’s hard to choke on it and it keeps forever.

    It does look like we’re going to (collectively) deal with it by establishing immunity zones the hard way. Gosh it would be nice if there was some way you could get – you know – a little bit of the disease so you could develop immunity safely without having to get full-blown sick. That would be so fucking great.

  3. Mano Singham says

    Thanks for this. I looked into my own vaccination records and found that in 2017 I was given a pneumonia vaccine called “Prevnar 13 Intramuscular Suspension” and a year later a booster shot called “Pneumovax 23 25 MCG/0.5ML Injection Injectable” which may be the PPSV23 vaccine you write about. My physician told me then that this vaccine should be good for the rest of my life.

  4. says

    I do wish someone would do a report on those cruise ships. I’ve seen a second hand report that it was similar to a bad seasonal flu on one, but couldn’t follow it back to an actual report.
    Didn’t seem equivalent to the 1918 flu. It seemed like it’s mostly us old folk that have to worry about it.
    — Keep an eye out for those who live alone. I was getting in trouble once because I couldn’t go grocery shopping and was starting to starve back a couple of decades ago. Actually was getting vision disturbances. Fortunately my sister came to visit.

  5. kestrel says

    I’m a believer in that pneumonia shot, because my mother once had a very serious case of the flu, could not get over it and finally went to the doctor. He told her that if she had not had the pneumonia vaccine, she would have been in the hospital and under risk of dying. Vaccines are a wonderful part of living in the 21st century and we should all take advantage. Maybe in some circumstances the vaccines you got won’t help, but then on the other hand… it could well end up saving your life. And for not very much money, either. They are sometimes even free.

  6. Jazzlet says

    Marcus I just want to challenge something you said in a previous post about the flu lasting for around four days. That’s not flu, it’s a bad cold. Flu lasts at least a week and can leave you weak for a further week. I’ve had it twice once in a university vaccation so my family looked after me, but once when mostly living alone, I could barely get to the loo on my own by crawling let alone go down stairs to fetch drinks so it was water from the bathroom, no food until Mr J came up for the weekend when I was able to eat soup. I was otherwise fit, but flu really knocks you out.

  7. says

    Apparently Trump’s worried someone might try to deliberately infect him with coronavirus. What a chickenshitburger. But that’s malignant narcissism for you.

    I gotta admit the outbreak is going to complicate voting. Watch the republicans weaponize it for vote suppression.

  8. says

    What if the flu vaccine for that year is only so-so? Not completely useless, but not completely successful in keeping you well.

  9. says

    I get the flu vaccine every year now. One memorable time I didn’t I was sick for two weeks, was running out of food, and started having vision problems likely from malnutrition. Luckily my sister visited from out of town at that point.
    Keep an eye on your friends who live alone.

  10. moose says

    I’ve had two pneumonia vaccines, and I’ve also had pneumonia twice. I’m not saying the vaccines don’t work [I’m very pro-vaxx]; it’s likely that the vaccine is the only reason pneumonia hasn’t killed me. Since you’ve had chicken pox, even as an adult, I would strongly recommend you look into getting the shingles vaccine, too. I had that 3 months ago and still have a bit of post-herpetic neuralgia. Do not recommend getting these.

    That said, between a history of bronchitis and pneumonia, if I get the coronebola, I’m probably toast. No jam. Whee.

  11. Jazzlet says

    robertbaden @#10
    If getting COVID-19 is ‘like getting flu’, it’s going to be like getting flu when unvaccinated as we don’t have a vaccination for COVID-19, so it’ll likely be the bad for a week weak for a week course that flu runs when you haven’t been vaccinated..

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