Who's up for a Swine Flu Party?

The story making the rounds these days is that swine flu parties "“ flu flings "“ are all the rage here in Merry Olde. Now, I've been to the odd garden party and birthday party, even a "fancy dress" party, but I have not yet been invited to a swine flu party (at least, not intentionally).

The swine flu party has its origins in those chickenpox parties of yore, when parents hoping to get the pox out of the way early would push their children toward the first child to fall ill, the idea being that their child would then develop immunity to the illness. Newspapers the world over, especially here in England, are urging people to use their common sense and to stay away from swine flu parties, on the grounds that contracting the flu in general is a bad idea and doing in such a potentially risky way is even worse.

But the likelihood of people actually hosting these parties is pretty low "“ no one has been able to produce solid evidence that such events have occurred and no newspapers have been able to find a parent willing to say, "Yes, I intentionally infected my child with swine flu "“ what?" (If, however, these parties invited celebrities who've had the flu, like Harry Potter star Rupert Grint, for example, who recovered from his bout with the swine flu just in time for the Leicester Square premiere of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, they may stand a better chance of actually being the wild success news media seems to fear they are.)

The stories surrounding the swine flu parties, then, can fall into the category that much reporting around the pandemic has: Well-intentioned fear mongering with a side of over-earnest freaking out.

Don't get me wrong, we are now in the stage where we have friends who've come down with the swine flu, where a summer cold can look suspiciously porcine, where we're armed with hand sanitizer for every trip out of the door. The threat of flu cannot be underestimated "“ but nor should it be overblown, a talent that the British press has in spades. The British press, in general, tends towards a more breathless, sensational, even combative form of reporting than we're used to in the States "“ headlines shrieking about the number of British deaths from the illness, the tragically young age of those who have died, and the coming apocalypse are so common they seem to blend in with the scenery. (And it's historical: check out The Times' archives of reporting on past flu epidemics.)

Swine-Flu

Unrelated photo taken by mental_floss editor Jason English on a trip to his local zoo.

The major story "“ admittedly reported with somewhat less morbid fascination than other swine flu stories had been "“ of a few weeks ago posited the worst-case number of people in Britain who could die from the swine flu at 65,000, a calculation based on a 0.35 percent mortality rate, and that the NHS is preparing for accordingly. Many stories also failed to mention that on average, 6,000 Britons die each year from the regular flu, though that number can spike "“ in the 1999 to 2000 flu season, around 21,000 died from the flu. And at the time, the swine flu death toll was around 30, where it has remained in the month since.

This reporting was also taking place around the same time that the BBC put out a TV docu-drama called The Spanish Flu: The Forgotten Fallen, which seemed to take a similar maudlin tone, albeit clothed in historical reporting, to that horrifying nuclear fall-out miniseries from the "˜80s, The Day After. Reporting about the movie also noted that advisors to the film said that the Spanish flu bore striking similarities to the current swine flu pandemic. As timely as I'm sure those BBC execs were thinking, was it really a good idea?

While reporting on the swine flu has largely quieted down, especially as civilization continues to tick along, the big story this week is that the vaccine itself might actually be more lethal than the disease. This was the same problem that arose during the 1976 outbreak of swine flu, which we discussed last spring. Under headlines like "Death linked to swine flu vaccine," papers have been reporting that health officials are warning that the current swine flu vaccine may share similarities with the 1976 vaccine, which resulted in more than 25 deaths from the onset of Guillain-Barré syndrome, a paralyzing neurological disease. All well and good, just adding another chunk of wood on the fear-mongering pyre, and reinforced by the article placed next to it: A lengthy editorial by a woman who had the swine flu, which was less a flu it seems, and more a visit to the fifth ring of Dante's Inferno.

eyes-wide-shutIn any case, speaking of parties "“ a country party for some well-heeled European types may have inadvertently become a swine flu fest a few weekends ago when, at the stroke of midnight, guests doffed their clothes and began earnestly reenacting that scene from Eyes Wide Shut. (You know the one.) The owner of the old English manor where the party took place said he was more than a little shocked by the whole thing and that attempts to stop the guests met with failure. The bonking wrapped up at around 3:30 a.m., with some guests retiring to their rooms and others leaving for the nearby TravelLodge.

Now that's a swine flu party.

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iStock
The Hidden Benefits of Your Health Insurance Plan
iStock
iStock

When we talk about health insurance, it’s usually in the context of a complaint. While it’s true that insurance companies often fight tooth and nail to keep their financial exposure limited, they’re also making moves to offer benefits beyond standard health care—and you might not even know about these perks.

A prime example is the recent trend for companies to offer a discount savings card on groceries. United Healthcare, Humana, and Medica are just a few of the insurers who have issued cards that can be used for an instant price reduction when checking out at participating stores. The catch? The programs typically cover healthy or organic foods. Along with discounted gym memberships, the benefit is an effort to keep policy holders fit and—at least theoretically—to reduce the need for medical interventions.

If you’re surprised to hear about it, you’re not alone. Here are some other programs offered by the nation's largest insurance companies that you might be missing out on. (Bear in mind that each company has various tiers of coverage and not all perks may apply to all levels.)

UNITED HEALTHCARE

The company’s Healthy Savings program for groceries allows shoppers to save on select items that change on a weekly basis. Each Sunday, the cards will recognize between $40 and $50 in deals on healthier grocery options. It’s only good at participating retailers, including Shop ‘n’ Save, Giant, and others. You can search for locations on their website.

Through UnitedHealth Allies, the company also offers discounts on weight loss programs like NutriSystem and Jenny Craig, as well as gym memberships and even active footwear [PDF].

CIGNA

The Northeast-based insurance company provides an umbrella discount service, Healthy Rewards, that offers savings on eye exams and up to 25 percent off alternative health therapies like acupuncture, chiropractic, and massage appointments [PDF]. They also offer fitness membership discounts. More information can be found at MyCigna.com.

AETNA

It’s hard to know what the pending acquisition of Aetna by pharmacy giant CVS will mean for health care perks moving forward. Currently, the company offers discounted memberships and trial passes to more than 10,000 gyms nationally, as well as discounts on home fitness equipment like treadmills [PDF]. You can also find discounts on meal home delivery subscriptions. Logged-in members can go to the Aetna website and select “Health Programs” then “Discounts” to determine your eligibility.

ANTHEM BLUECROSS

In addition to savings on groceries, gym memberships, and weight loss programs, Anthem BlueCross offers savings for members on DNA ancestry kits, pet insurance, and even baby-proofing.

HUMANA

Humana offers an impressive array of “lifestyle discounts” that range from basic wellness perks to teeth whitening, identity theft services, and 15 percent off in-network LASIK procedures. They also offer discounts on over-the-counter medications like Claritin and Advil. You can register at MyHumana.com to find out more.

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Bose
Bose's New 'Sleepbuds' Are Designed to Help You Doze Off Faster
Bose
Bose

If you’re the kind of person who can’t fall asleep without the whir of a fan or some other ambient noise in the background, then Bose has a product for you. As spotted by The Verge, the audio equipment company’s new wireless noise-masking Sleepbuds are designed to fit comfortably into your ears and help you doze off faster.

The Bose sleepbuds
Bose

Unlike other Bose earbuds—and, well, most headphones in general—the Sleepbuds don’t actually play music or allow audio to be streamed from external devices. Instead, they come equipped with 10 soothing audio tracks, including brown noise, rain, ocean waves, a running stream, and more.

The earbuds aren’t noise-canceling, but their audio tracks are specifically engineered to mask certain outside sounds like traffic and, perhaps most impressively, your partner’s snoring. The rechargeable battery lasts for 16 hours, and at just 1 centimeter in width and height, they’re Bose’s tiniest product yet.

For early risers whose partners like to sleep in, the Bose Sleep app can sound off an alarm in your ear that only you can hear. The app can also be used to adjust your sleep settings, including your noise of choice, volume levels, and how long you want the sound to play for.

Bose spent a couple of years developing the product and raised over $450,000 in an Indiegogo campaign to help improve the Sleepbuds by getting backers to test them out and provide feedback. The Sleepbuds are now available for purchase on Amazon for $249.

[h/t The Verge]

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