The threat of swine flu continues to rivet a world already primed for apocalypse by the financial crisis and Susan Boyle's heroic performance on Britain's Got Talent. Yesterday, with 152 people in Mexico dead and cases cropping up in Britain, Europe, and parts of the Middle East and Asia, the World Health Organization elevated its official estimation of the threat of an influenza pandemic to level 4, which is two levels down from a pandemic, or basically like a Yellowish Green on the Homeland Security scale. About nineteen students and one teacher at St. Francis Prep, in Queens, have been diagnosed with the flu of swines, and up to 160 are ill and are suspected of being infected. Oddly, none of them are the students who actually went to Mexico. As one Danny Marketti tells the Post:
"It's so weird that none of us are sick, but everyone else is sick who didn't even go," said Marketti, 18. "We've been back for over a week already, and we didn't get any symptoms at all."
Meanwhile, an employee at Times Square accounting firm Ernst & Young was also diagnosed with the illness last night. So far, the U.S. strain of the virus appears to be mild, resulting in pretty much sniffles and a fever, but that hasn't stopped most people from panicking. Pharmacies in New York and elsewhere are selling out of the antiviral drug Tamiflu, and the acting director of the national Centers for Disease Control has suggested some disturbing, specific-yet-not-specific measures of prevention, such as:
"People in areas where swine flu has infiltrated should avoid kissing each other hello and goodbye."
(Drunkenly making out apropros of nothing, however, is fine.) The agency also said people should "think carefully" before traveling to or from areas known to be affected by the flu virus, such as Mexico. That has not stopped one New York staffer, who, comforted by the Queens teenagers, flew to Cancun yesterday. So far, she reports that she "only saw a couple of masks in the airport," and, incidentally, "the weather is great."