To be honest, until recently I just wasn't concerned about swine flu. Sure, it targets the young and healthy, and I'm young and healthy, but how bad could it really be? I'm young and healthy! Even as more and more people started coming down with it -- even two of our own bloggers -- they all seemed to recover after a few days. Big whoop.
That was before I found out about the Cytokine Storm.
Haven't heard of it? I hadn't either. The Wikipedia entry -- which is terrifying, by the way -- defines the Cytokine Storm as "a potentially fatal immune reaction consisting of a positive feedback loop between cytokines and immune cells, with highly elevated levels of various cytokines." Now, I'm not a doctor, and Wiki is not exactly a peer-reviewed scientific journal, but I think the general thrust is that when the body encounters a new pathogen, it is actually possible for the immune system to overload. The disease doesn't kill you -- your body's natural defenses do.
So the reason the H1N1 virus is disproportionately fatal to those without underlying health problems, like the 1918 pandemic before it, is because the victim's immune system needs to be healthy enough to produce this antibody overload. That's pretty scary. And I'd still be dismissing it all as hysteria if I didn't hear a first-person account of somebody my age who spent four weeks in the hospital, in a medically induced coma, trying to fight this thing off. Yikes.
Yes, the odds are still very much in my favor. But now I'm thinking a little more seriously about seeking the vaccine, even though it doesn't seem to be available anywhere. And that's a whole other story, isn't it?