Monday, April 27, 2009

Does the swine flu outbreak threaten the gay community or gay businesses?


Does Swine flu create a “threat” to the gay community or to gay businesses?

We’re talking about a viral infection that is transmitted person-to-person by casual close contact and obviously by kissing and moderate intimacy. So it would be transmissible in any crowded indoor space, including a dance club (gay or straight).

I wondered about this when pondering the wild intimacy and the “dirty dancing” so popular in bars (including straight bars, too – just watch enough movies). The intimacy does not transmit HIV, or Hepatitis B or C, or any blood-borne disease; it does transmit flu.

Unmarried people who congregate may be in close proximity socially to others than are many people settled into “middle class families.” That sounds unhealthful, but it may actually be healthful. What happens is that a population is exposed to many viruses and bacteria all the time by routine close contact, and becomes immune to almost all of these agents. So normally people are not at risk from routine close contact in crowds or even by intimate dancing in discos – it may make them gradually more resistant in time. Many people, by the time they reach their late 20s or so, become less susceptible to most infections (like norovirus) that made them very sick as kids. The risk of meningitis also goes down. It seems that by age 30 most people have been around long enough to be relatively immune to most things.

But swine flu is different – maybe – although it may be getting milder as it spreads person to person. It’s the novelty that is dangerous. And, H1N1 viruses (like the 1918 Spanish flu) sometimes cause “cytokine storms” that can be fatal to young adults – just the population in dance floors. Hopefully, this virus is already becoming weak as it comes into the United States. It’s almost impossible to stop anyway, and an exposure now this summer to most people might prevent a much worse epidemic in the future (even from the dreaded bird flu), by building some natural immunity now.

So I say, don’t do what Mexico City did. Don’t close anything down.

April 28:

The medical or public health term for this economic threat is "social distancing". See my issues blog for April 28.

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