Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Swine Flu Closes Schools in Bangkok but Not Mine!


We, like most of the world, have been quietly dealing with what started out being called "The Swine Flu". It's gone through it's different names here in Thailand, the two most recent being H1N1 virus and in Thai "Kai wat yai sai pan mai 2009". This last one is what we call it here and can be heard daily on the news and radio. The translation is basically Swine flu, or H1N1, but it breaks down into something like "big flu, new strain, 2009". I guess avian flu from a few years back was H5N1 or something like that. I just thought the naming convention was fun. Some things don't really have simple terms here, my favorite example being the word Mammal. For English speakers, mammal is a simple term for one of the five classes of vertebrates...but in Thai they don't have a single word for mammal. Instead, they call mammals "animals that raise their young with milk" (สัตว์เลี้ยงลูกด้วยนม). Linguistics is a very interesting subject, and to think that was almost my major in college!

So now, although Thais are said to be a little shy about wearing medical masks in public, I see them scattered on public transportation, in our school, in the mall and most other places where large numbers of people are in close quarters. I wear mine while teaching but only really about 10% of my classes, the ones with snotty nosed sneezers and coughers.

Yesterday, the prime minister announced the closure of over 400 schools in Bangkok for the last three days of the week, similar to what they do during coups and big political protests...but our school, once again, was not one of those closed. I've heard of two students and one teacher at our school who had and recovered already from H1N1. Luckily, the actual swine flu here has only claimed 24 lives, but the percentage of deaths to those infected remains high...somewhere near one percent.

The other noticeable reminder of the flu are the commercials on TV reminding people to wash their hands and cover their mouths when coughing and sneezing. Also there are posters and signs, like the one above, on roads and bus stops and train stations giving helpful hints for preventing infection. The poster above pretty much says:
Things everyone should know for preventing H1N1. If you eat (Thai style) use a central serving spoon rather than using individual spoons to take from the soup or stew, wash your hands, wear a mask if you are infected, take care of your health. (Something like that, you get the idea!)
Many of us in the office here have gone through our little stomach, head, sinus illnesses in the past month and a half, all within a week of each other. We're happy though that none of us suffered from anything too serious. Knock on wood. Outside of the two student confirmed cases who are better already, I've had several kids miss an entire week of classes, but they all come back seemingly healthy and no worse for the wear. Yay!

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