IMAGE: Hawk Krall
Not since the Spanish influenza plague of 1918 have so many people been scared of a little sniffle. Since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cranked up the pandemic alert level to 5 on April 30, we might be justified in wearing face masks and taking baths in kerosene. But let's keep things in perspective: 615,000 people died in the 1918 epidemic, and over 36,000 people die every year from flu strains of a non-porcine variety. The world is full of peril, and swine flu—of which Oregon boasts three confirmed and 19 probable cases as of Monday, May 4 (and zero deaths)—might be the least of your worries. Let WW help you recalibrate your inner Chicken Little with this handy list of threats to your health and safety.
PANIC METER: 1 = Breathe easy, 10 = Head for the hills.
Panic Meter: 4
Who should be scared: Hog farmers…living in Mexico City…between the ages of 25 and 50.
What it'll do to you: Give you the flu. Symptoms include fever, lethargy, lack of appetite and vomiting. You may even get a runny nose and sore throat, according to the CDC. This strain is panic-worthy because people with otherwise healthy immune systems have died, but with simple treatments, chances are it will present only minor inconvenience.
Precautions: Pick up the latest style of paranoia—the face mask, now available in several shades to match any outfit. A box of 300 (enough to share with friends, neighbors and people you meet on the street) will run you about $35 at medexsupply.com. Dr. Jay Nelson, a disease specialist at Oregon Health Science University, also recommends taking Tamiflu at the first sign of symptoms.
The silver lining: One massively good excuse to ditch out on all your responsibilities for a few days.
Panic Meter: 1
Who should be scared: Nature nuts and suburbanites. Spiders are equal-opportunity biters, says Dr. Greta Binford, a biologist at Lewis Clark College. They don't discriminate between young and old, male or female. But you're far more likely to come across an arachnid on a hike in the woods, or in your backyard, than you are at a laundromat or in an apartment building.
What it'll do to you: Portlanders have little to fear from the infamous brown recluse, whose bite causes the skin to erupt into gangrenous lesions in patriotic shades of red, white and blue. Those spiders don't live here. A few black widow cases have been recorded in the Portland metro area, whose bites cause pain and cramping, but those can be cured with a night of whining.
Precautions: Clean your room, says Binford. Spiders love to hide in clutter, or to crawl into rumpled bedsheets. When hiking, don't stick your hand into mysterious dark holes.
The silver lining: Most spiders are probably more scared of you than you are of them. But that's their own fault for having such ugly faces.
GETTING HIT BY A CAR WHILE BIKING
Panic Meter: 8
Who should be scared: Longtime Portlanders know that it's not "if" but "when," regarding incidences of bicycle casualties. In the annual Portland Citizen Survey conducted by the City of Portland Office of Transportation, residents consistently identify bike safety as one of the top three city priorities. But the most wary should be male bicyclists between the ages of 25 and 34, who suffer the most injuries, according to Oregon Department of Transportation statistics for the Portland area.
What it'll do to you: Mush you into a meat puddle, make your mother cry.
Precautions: The Office of Transportation offers a veritable buffet of tips to improve your cycling experience (see portlandonline.com). But the most helpful one is also the most obvious: Follow the rules. Signal when turning, and when in doubt, slow down. A helmet can't hurt, either.
The silver lining: Bragworthy bruises at the hipster bar.
Panic Meter: 7
Who should be scared: Anyone getting medical treatment. About 85 percent of MRSA infections in 2005 occurred while the victim was receiving some sort of health care. The easily spread staph infection is resistant to common antibiotics and can cause a heap of trouble once it enters the blood system, according to Dr. Nelson. It especially affects people with poor immune systems and the elderly. Way to kick 'em when they're down, MRSA.
What it'll do to you: If that bump on your skin isn't from a spider bite or just part of a teenage complexion, it could be MRSA. The lesion will ooze pus, open up to create a "palpable fluid-filled cavity," and sometimes eat away at skin and muscle tissue around the infection. It can result in high fever and joint pain, and can even enter the lungs. If you still aren't panicked, search "MRSA" on Google images.
Precautions: Avoid hospitals like they're the plague, because, well, they are.
The silver lining: If the affected area is treated quickly, it won't need to be amputated…usually.
Panic Meter: 10
Who should be scared: This towheaded Fox News talk-show host honed his skills as a radio DJ and is now doing our eyes no favors by wearing a suit and sitting behind a desk. His ignorant demagoguery attacks liberals and conservatives alike, leaving room only for "gun-totin', sissy-hatin', real Americans." In March, he started the Glenn Beck 9-12 Project, which preaches nine principles ("I believe in God and He is the center of my life") and 12 values ("hard work," "courage" and, uh, "moderation").
What it'll do to you: Morph you into a one-dimensional, buzzcut clown who thinks facts are like mosquitoes—annoying, but easily ignored (maybe a spider would help!). You may also develop a fake Southern accent and discover a sudden proclivity for wearing overalls.
Precautions: A V-chip.
The silver lining: Renewed national interest in corn dogs and camping.