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Pigs get a bum rap: Swine flu stigma strikes summer camp | Jan's Journal

This photo is from the camp when I first arrived today. Parents weren
This photo is from the camp when I first arrived today. Parents weren't allowed past the parking lot, and paperwork was placed on the ground. My daughter, Kelsey, is trying to maintain 6 feet while handing me the information on the camp closure. It was silly since I'd be in the car with her anyway, so she's laughing.
— image credit: Courtesy of Jan Hallahan

April 30, 2009

A person would have to live in a bubble to not have heard anything about the outbreak of influenza A virus infections (aka, swine flu).

TV stations have covered it nonstop for days, even going as far as running a continuous breaking news clip along the bottom of the screen during "American Idol." The ticker tape was plain irritating because breaking news to me is something that just happened 10 minutes ago, not news from last week. The confirmed cases of swine flu that have touched other unfortunate families seemed eons away from Federal Way. Wearing masks and being quarantined felt old fashioned — until a 7:45 a.m. call this morning.

A crack-of-dawn ringing phone usually spells trouble. Thankfully, our neighbor just wanted me to drive their son to school because Mrs. F was on her way to pick up her daughter from Camp Thunderbird. (That’s the outdoor educational camp in Olympia where our Federal Way St. Vincent de Paul sixth-graders spent this week learning about nature.)

I perked up substantially at this news, primarily because my oldest daughter was also at Camp Thunderbird volunteering as a camp counselor.

According to my neighbor, some children became ill with flu-like symptoms early in the week and went home. By Wednesday, there were sick children in most of the cabins, including some staff. Wait a minute, I thought: If the campers were being sent home a day early, what about my daughter? Surely she would have been exposed more than most due to her caregiver role.

My phone rang again and with relief, I heard my daughter's frazzled voice: “Mom, they closed the camp early because too many kids are sick. Can you pick me up at noon?”

“Wait a minute!” I quibbled. “If you’re exposed, then I will be too, driving in the car.”

But what’s a mother to do? On the way home, I sternly instructed her not to cough, sneeze, spit or talk in my direction. I breathed shallowly, and attempted to hold my breath without losing consciousness.

It’s ironic that she was possibly exposed to the swine flu because I admit, proudly, that I own a very classy pig collection. They’re not tacky. One is a beautiful Fitz and Floyd handblown orange glass pig. And most were gifts that I artfully tuck into niches and shelves around the house. But I’m careful of placement, or my husband grumbles.

Pigs are getting a bum rap here, and someone has to stand up for them. I struggle with the fact that this new virus was named swine just because it’s normally found in pigs. According to the Seattle and King County Public Health communications team, it is not transmitted from pig to person, just person to person the usual way: By an infected person sneezing or coughing within close proximity.

There are many misconceptions about swine flu/pigs because the word swine (hog, boar or similar animal) also means an offensive term that deliberately insults somebody’s manners or principles. Hence the negative vibes sent toward this incredibly smart and clever creature.

My daughter is now quarantined for approximately seven days in her room. So far, two of her co-counselors have symptoms severe enough to seek medical attention. She is complaining of not feeling good, so I’m bracing myself for a long weekend. My primary goal is to not get sick myself, and keep other family members from being exposed.

The most important step to take, besides limiting contact with the infected person, is to wash your hands. That’s what a pig would do, if he was given the opportunity. Contrary to popular belief, pigs are clean animals — swine flu stigma or not.

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