Unstoppable Virus Continues To Kill In Japan
According to today's English-language issue of the Asahi Shimbun (bundled, as always, with the as-published-in-Japan version of the International Herald Tribune) so far four deaths have been attributed to the plague which is currently showcased nightly in the TV news here in Japan.
That was the count published today, Monday 18 December 2006.
But, while the death toll is low, tens of thousands have reported having become ill with this virus, for which medical science can offer neither a vaccine nor a cure.
Today my students, who often act brain dead when the topic is current events (remote events such as, for example, the North Korean nuclear bomb test) got very chatty when I gave them the opening exercise "discuss the noro virus" as a warmer.
One young woman said that one of her co-workers had been coming to the office sick with the noro virus, feeling compelled to meet her work schedule, and another female student said that she herself had recently had the noro virus, and, facing similar demands, had gone to work though ill.
Even the ones whose English was low level had quite a bit to say on the topic of the noro virus.
(A sample from today's low-level English: "When did you come new house your car?", later self-corrected to "When will come a new car your house?")
We did noro virus role plays, including one on the topic of "recent news" (situation: you have had the noro virus) and one on "calming down angry person" (restaurant manager has to deal with very angry customer who ate at the restaurant last night and got sick, and daycare center manager is confronted by very angry parent whose child got sick at the daycare center.)
My spellchecker thinks that the noro virus is a figment of my imagination, and rules the term to be illicit, proposing that I should change it to NOR, NODO or NOPO.
But it is a real virus, though I had never heard of it until about a week ago, and you can Google it on Google news.
About a week back, my daughter Aiko Cornucopia Nishikawa, age two and a half, was very subdued when I picked her up from the daycare center. That evening she had little appetite, went to bed early, then woke at about ten at night and vomited all over her bedding.
The next day she seemed to be okay but, in the evening, after dinner, threw up for a second time, this time while playing spectator in the kitchen, where her mother was doing the dishes.
There have been a number of highly publicized outbreaks of this virus in Japan, outbreaks which in some cases have focused on a particular hotel. But here, locally, we have had an outbreak at the daycare center, though ours was too small-scale to make the TV news.
Cornucopia was okay after just a few days, but my wife started feeling poorly and was off her food for about a week, suffering abdominal pains to go with the loss of appetite.
The noro virus is, apparently, a form of gastroenteritis and is spread in the same way that avian flu would spread if it got loose in the human population. You have the virus, you use a telephone or a door handle or something like that, and an uninfected person, handling the object in question, picks up the virus and later transfers it to themselves.
As would be the case if we were fighting avian flu, the first line of defence is to wash your hands with soap and water. Vomit, if it has been produced, should be cleaned up with a chlorine-based bleach, as alcohol-based solutions do not kill the virus.
I myself have so far escaped the virus, though my wife has been at pains to warn me to be meticulous about washing my hands after changing diapers (something of which I do my fair share).
The noro virus, then, a nimble survivor which, if it should turn mutant and start to kill on a wider scale, could become the next pandemic of our times. (Science fiction writers everywhere take note!)
One of my older male students, Yoshio, who I pick to be in his late sixties, proposed a simple remedy for the noro virus, the one he was going to take if he got it: whiskey.
Another student said that the term "noro virus" stems from an outbreak in some American city starting with N, but he could not remember the place.
As usual in Japan, we see electron microscope pictures of the villain virus on our TV screens. Personally, I think that displaying the electron microscope pictures is a totally useless exercise, since you won't be able to ID the virus if it turns up our your just-used paper tissue, but it's the done thing in Japan. Got a virus breaking loose? Okay, we need to see a picture of the enemy.
I just went to Google News and input the term "noro virus" to see how many hits I would get.
I got a total of fourteen results, and Google suggested that I might want "norovirus" rather than, as two words, "noro" in conjunction with "virus."
I took the one-word "norovirus" suggestion and got 2,093 results, the first being a link to the following:
"Norovirus continues to spread / Govt body calls for special ...
The Daily Yomiuri, Japan - 12 hours ago
The recent nationwide epidemic of gastroenteritis caused by the norovirus continues to spread, health authorities warn. In Kamikawacho, Hokkaido, the virus ..."
As an English teacher I continue to add to my vocabulary, and today's tweak is the correct spelling of the term "norovirus." I will instruct my students accordingly. A subject on which, as indicated above, some of them have a very personal interest for the simple reason that they have had it.