The CDC's complex swine flu education efforts have been so consumed with twittering away vaccine fears that it forgot to inform a few Michiganders of the very basic fact that you can't catch H1N1 from a dead body.
Grand Rapids resident Cynthia Luke, 51, was the first person to die of H1N1 in Kent County, Michigan last week. After her family released her cause of death to the media, a shit storm blew in on a cold front of fear so powerful that it quickly wiped out any illusions of dispelling our swine flu ignorance in 140 characters or less. Reported a ">local news station:
Luke's family says they have barely been allowed to mourn because of all the controversy and rumors surrounding her death.
Friends of the family have been calling, sending their regrets for fear attending [Luke's funeral] would be "dangerous."
The family spent the weekend talking to the media, trying to convince friends and relatives that it was safe to pay their respects at Luke's funeral, which was yesterday. The local news report even sought out a forensic pathologist to tell everyone in an appropriately science-y way that "I can't imagine a scenario where you would be able to contract the H1N1 virus from a body in a funeral setting." After which he must have sat staring blankly at his forensic pathology degree in the semi-dark as he felt a shade drop around all of his previous accomplishments.
As for family's own outreach efforts: "It didn't do much good," Luke's brother, Frank Balsitis, said when reached by phone today. Around 65 people showed up to the funeral, he said. (A church employee said "about 100," but she was probably trying to be nice?). Balsitis said they were expecting as many as 400 close friends and relatives.
"I had only four people from my whole dad's side of the family," he said. Everyone else was "afraid of the unknown," and steered clear because of rumors that the hospital had been so concerned about Luke's case that they kept a log of everyone who visited her.
This whole episode is a bit too similar to something you might read in an account of burial during a medieval plague. Which, conveniently, I have one right here:
"It was often the mother who shrouded her son and placed him in the coffin... for everybody else refused to touch the dead body. No prayer, trumpet or bell summoned friends and neighbors to the funeral, nor was Mass performed."
Which would probably not be terrifying—just an interesting the-more-things-change-the-more-they-stay-the-same-type-observation—except for the fact that those people didn't have science or reason or really any way to deal with the world except being afraid all the time and starting holy wars in the Middle East. The more things change!