Caroline Grimberghs of Belgium’s French-language daily La Libre Belgique gives notice today of what at first glance seems a rather strange new phenomenon: “swine flu parties” (“Flu evenings” for voluntary contamination – although she repeatedly misspells the event as “swin flu parties” in her text). Yep, these are supposed to be social occasions for which the guests of honor, so to speak, are people known already to be suffering from the “H1N1 pandemic flu,” better known as swine flu. The idea is for everyone else in attendance to do their darndest to catch the disease themselves, thereby gaining at the cost of a little discomfort for a while some bodily immunity against a second wave of H1N1 that is supposed to hit in the fall and be rather more deadly. (For now, national health authorities describe swine flu’s symptoms as basically indistinguishable from your garden-variety – why don’t we just call it “kosher”? – influenza.)
To be sure, Grimberghs does not claim this new wrinkle in festive occasions (could we call it a “cough-y klatch”?) is yet to be found in Belgium, just mainly in the US and the UK so far. But that may only be due to some lack of Belgian imagination: she also notes that her country recently had to switch from the “blocking phase” of health policy (i.e. trying to keep H1N1 out entirely) to the “attenuation phase” where authorities can only try to the limit the damage, and the total of Belgian swine flu-sufferers now stands at 126, although with no deaths (yet). Meanwhile, a vaccine against it is still only under development, while medication to counteract it (I assume she means Tamiflu here) is in short supply and thus allocated only to those most seriously at risk.
So indeed, why not go try and get it to give yourself the immunity? Studies of the great 1918 Spanish flu epidemic seem to indicate that those who came down with that early had much greater survival rates. And while “swine flu” does seem an intriguing new idea for a party-theme, I have to wonder just what sort of activities that is supposed to mean – what’s the protocol? “Get down, get funky, get infected”? Do you serve drinks in dirty glasses? What specific sort of physical person-to-person interaction is envisioned here? Does everyone sit on the living-room floor and play “spin-the-medicine-bottle”?
On top of that, we learn from the Washington Post that US summer camps are closing down out of fear for the H1N1 virus. Frankly, to me this signals a fading of the traditional American entrepreneurial spirit that may offer a clue to the US’ current economic troubles. No, you don’t cancel summer camps – in fact, you quickly set up and advertise new “swine flu camps” where parents can handily send their children both to ensure that they get the immunity and that others – medical professionals, optimally – have to put up with the kids during that messy, cranky period when they are sick. I can imagine it now: “Good afternoon, boys and girls, I’m pleased to welcome all 110 of you to Porky’s H1N1 Holiday Camp! As you know, we have 55 sleeping bags available to accommodate you – please submit your choice of “sleep buddy” to your assigned counselor . . . ”
UPDATE: Uh oh, don’t get confused: word from the other side of the Belgian cultural divide, i.e. from the Flemings, is that they like to refer to the H1N1 virus in Dutch as the “Mexican flu” instead. Kiss me, Julio!