The most-promoted news of the past day or so is that the Federal government has begun to pay attention to the possibility that a very virulent bird flu virus may become a worldwide scourge in the next few years. A sidebar story is the recent reconstruction of the DNA of the virus responsible for the 1918 flu pandemic, which killed perhaps 40 million people.
So far as I can determine, the virus itself has not been reconstructed; they have just produced the bare DNA. Even in a virus, in addition to its protein coat, the DNA is accompanied by a few proteins and other biochemicals needed to produce an active virion. I certainly hope they don't go so far as to restore active virions (I wonder if there is a Latin plural...).
Anyway, I have a tale to tell.
At least concerning influenza, I have a very effective immune system. I have seldom had a "flu" for more than 24 hours, and on a few occasions I have thrown off an infection in about six hours. As an adult, I have had no more than one bout of flu per decade. This may have saved my life.
I am a stamp collector. One prize of my collection was acquiring my Grandmother's collection and duplicates, from my Mother's attic. My Grandmother was a single woman until the early part of the Great War. Having been born in 1890, this made her a spinster, imposed upon by her married sisters to help with the sewing, and working as a schoolteacher in a 1-room school in Poteau, OK. She lived in Fort Smith, AR.
When the war started, she had been collecting in a desultory way, but the sudden depopulation of most men in the area meant she needed a hobby, badly. She used her wide circle of friends to gather a great many of the envelopes that arrived in Fort Smith and Poteau, particularly the foreign ones. In her duplicate box there resided two stock books, one packed with US stamps, and the other with foreign stamps, all from the 1930s and earlier, with a very great many from 1900-1920. There were hundreds of copies of certain common stamps.
Though she married late in 1915, to an older man who wasn't accepted for service, she collected assiduously until her children were well into high school. My Grandfather was a good provider, she had a good excuse to make her sisters do their own sewing, and she was an efficient housekeeper, so she had time for her stamps right up to 1939. My mother graduated high school in 1940, so I can imagine the last year of school was very busy for the whole family.
It came about that I spent quite a while with the "red one-cent Washington" issues. From 1908 to 1920, the stamps look the same, but there is always a little difference from issue to issue, sometimes more than one issue in a year. Though many of the stamps had been pulled or soaked off their envelopes, there was quite a pile of cuttings, squares cut from envelopes with the stamps still attached.
I soaked many of the cuttings to remove the stamps. On more than one occasion, I let them soak over night, beginning with warm water and letting it cool. I always intended to process them within an hour, but sometimes forgot or got sidetracked. My way is to soak a batch of stamps until each one will slide of the paper, then put them in fresh water to soak off the rest of the glue.
All told, by soaking off so many stamps, I was exposed to old, dried—and then remoistened—saliva from hundreds of people from all over the country, and many from worldwide locations. However it may have happened, I had a springtime flu that year. I had it bad, and it lasted three days. Very high fever, very bad malaise, heavy coughing but little production.
I wonder if I am the only person to catch the 1918 flu in 1998?