A nasty flu

I’ve been sneezing a lot lately. My throat is sore, my eyes are burning and sometimes I feel lightheaded.

Maybe it’s allergies, or maybe it’s my first cold of the season. Or, perhaps, I’ve been stricken with the swine flu—you know, the viral respiratory illness officially known as the H1N1 virus, with symptoms that include fever, headache and chills, as well as a persistent cough, rampant sneezing and plenty of aches and pains.

Time will tell whether I’ve come down with this dreaded influenza, but this much I know: I can expect a dozen weary glances thrown my way every time I so much as sniffle or cough.

Last week, fighting the symptoms of a cold, I went to see a friend’s band play at Old Ironsides.

Bad move.

Nearly every single person I encountered immediately took two steps back as soon as he or she realized I was a potential germ carrier. One friend even stuck her arm out and, as the tips of her fingers just missed my chin, I realized this was her way of not-so-subtly demarcating an invisible boundary between us.

“Don’t come any closer,” she warned.

I think she was kidding.

Then again maybe not, because it seems like swine-flu hysteria is breaking out faster than the actual virus can spread.

Last month, when a Michigan woman became the first in her county to die from the HINI virus, her immediate family was left to grieve alone after friends and relatives begged off attending the woman’s funeral for fear of contracting the virus.

Last I checked, a dead body wasn’t capable of coughing on you.

Now, while my circumstances have yet to become so dire, I’ve had at least three people drill me on when I plan to get my vaccine, several have asked if I’m worried about the disease and another handful have helpfully included me in their mass e-mail communiqués with tips on how to avoid the virus.

Among the advice: Cover your mouth when you cough (duh), gargle out the germs with Listerine and then “reverse the flow” by drinking plenty of hot liquids in order to swallow the germs so that your stomach acid kills them.

Oh, OK.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m a bona fide hypochondriac. I wash my hands religiously and bathe in hand sanitizer. I consume copious amounts of garlic tabs and vitamin C. I worry about every little headache and creak. I once even convinced myself that a chronic, increasingly and intensely painful ache in my arm was cancer.

Turns out it was just carpal tunnel syndrome—go figure.

I’m not trying to downplay the seriousness that is swine flu; it’s just that I’m having a hard time working up what seems to be the socially acceptable levels of fear. Perhaps I should be more paranoid—not only would it probably better my rate of survival, it’d also help me cope with the frenzy that seems to have mutated into a weird viral strain of equal parts Y2K panic (the world is ending!) and Internet hysterics (forward this e-mail warning to everyone you know!).

My attitude may be the death of me yet (and I encourage you to proclaim “I told you so!” at my funeral—if you have the nerve to attend), but in the meantime, let’s make a deal:

You promise to stop worrying me with all those questions and panicky e-mails, and I promise not to breathe on you.