Mad Science Monday: Coronavirus, Flu, and Wanderers

February 10, 2020

Welcome to Mad Science Mondays, where we talk about depictions of science in movies, TV shows, books, and the media. We dissect the good, the bad, the comical and the outright irresponsible. Who says learning about science can’t be fun?

Last week, the news broke that Canadians who are being evacuated from China will be quarantined at Canadian Forces Base Trenton for two weeks, to ensure they’re not infected with the new coronavirus. This got my attention because CFB Trenton is about 10 minutes from my house.

I’m not actually that worried though, for several reasons:

  • passengers will be screened for illness before they’re even allowed on the plane
  • quarantine is designed to isolate infection until the danger of transmission has passed
  • I hardly ever leave my house anyway, so I’m pretty unlikely to come into contact with an infected person
  • I’m actually at greater risk of infection IN my house, due to the fact that Tech Support is a biomedical engineering technologist, and medical equipment is constantly moving in and out of this place.

If your exposure risk is higher than mine, all the things you’d normally do to avoid catching colds and flu apply:

  • wash your hands
  • wash stuff you touch
  • if you get sick, quarantine yourself at home

Also, if you’re going to wear a mask in public, get N95 (not a fabric mask) and make sure it’s fitted properly and pinched down around your nose. Don’t be this guy:

fabric masks don't block viruses

Attributed to @CarlZha/Twitter by

New illnesses are definitely scary (if you really want to lose some sleep, Chuck Wendig’s terrifying apocalypic novel Wanderers is brilliant and will keep you up nights), and as a result, a lot of misinformation circulates very quickly, on social media but also in the mainstream media. This is not surprising, because there’s a lot of misinformation out there about the flu, too, and we have flu outbreaks every year.

I was waiting around at the walk-in clinic this morning (no one was coughing or sneezing, fortunately), and overheard a very familiar conversation:

Patient: I’m here for a flu shot, but I hate them. I never get the flu, but every time I get the shot, I get sick. But my boss is making us get them.

Receptionist: Where do you work?

Patient: At a senior’s home.

I didn’t say anything at the time (I don’t like to be THAT person), but…

I have no idea whether this person’s immune system just gets extra excited about vaccines, or whether she’s been unlucky enough to catch a cold right around the same time, or if it’s just one of those years that scientists guess the wrong strain of flu when they start making the vaccine months in advance of flu season. But flu shots can’t give you the flu. They really, really can’t. And vulnerable people, like seniors and those of us with egg allergies who aren’t allowed to get flu shots,* rely on the protection that comes from you getting yours. It’s called herd immunity, and it helps keep everyone safer.

So please, get your flu shots, because, as scary as coronavirus sounds, the flu kills WAY more people.

End of PSA. 🙂 Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments! 


* raises hand

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