Doctors in 1918, in an attempt to develop antidotes for the Great Swine Flu, conducted tests on military prisoner volunteers in exchange for pardons. The prisoners were injected with infected lung tissue taken from the dead and then sprayed in the eyes, nose, and mouth with infectious aerosols. If they still failed to succumb to the virus, they had their throats swabbed with discharges taken from the sick and dying. When all else failed, they were required to sit open-mouthed while an extremely ill victim was helped to cough into their faces. Shockingly, out of the sixty-two men who volunteered for the tests, none became infected with the disease. The only probable explanation was that perhaps the flu had passed through the prison weeks prior and the volunteers, all of whom had survived, had developed a natural immunity. This gives me hope.
After all of the years of being in a band on the road one thing is certain; we have been introduced to many different people and with them many different viruses. Living and sleeping in such close quarters tends to lend itself to the sharing of every virus that is introduced. I say this is a good thing, because my immune system is well-versed in beating viruses. I never get the flu, and I rarely have cold symptoms. I rarely use sanitizer or wash my hands (and when I do its without much rigor), so my body relies on its learned white blood cells and local bacteria to fight alien agents. Being so cramped together on the road, coupled with being in contact with thousands of people from all over, has taught my immune system to develop defenses against all types of viruses from around the country. So the idea that normal, clean people were getting sick and dying from this Swine Flu and the filthy, cramped together prisoners were not is somewhat comforting. Its a similar concept to the ones that say a slightly thirsty vine bears a better grape, or by slightly limiting ones calories actually makes ones cells more efficient. These prisoners, when limited with sanitation, developed very active immune systems in order to survive.
The crazy thing about viruses is that they only last a few hours outside of a host. They need to be passed to other hosts in order to survive. What is surprising is that outbreaks have been known to come back years later. Scientists can only guess that the strains might hide out unnoticed in populations of wild animals before trying their hand at a new generation of human beings. After the 1918 outbreak, Swine Flu (or H1N1) had another outbreak in 1933, then again in the 1950's, and yet again in the 1970's. Up until a few years ago, scientists could only speculate that the Great Swine Flu could quite possibly once again rear its ugly head. As we all know, it finally has.
The good news is that with todays medicine it stands little chance of doing the type of damage it did in 1918. The bad news is all your efforts at sanitation won't do you any good. Viruses are airborne, and your best defense is a well qualified immune system (coupled with a flu vaccine when needed). When you keep viruses and bacteria outside of your body, you develop a weak, underworked immune system that simply isn't prepared to handle a skillfully mutated virus. This is why young people are most at risk, because they have had less time to gain exposure to earlier strands of influenza. In 1918, the Great Swine Flu had its worse effect on those in their twenties and thirties. Older people may have benefited from resistance gained from an earlier exposure to the same strain, but why the very young were similarly spared is unknown. That is the scary thing about viruses, you never know where they're coming from, when they'll mutate, and who they'll target.
There is not much you can do to prepare for a viral outbreak, but in my opinion a safe thing to do is to develop as much immunity as you can by staying healthy and getting dirty, in equal amounts.