You’re scared. You keep turning on the internet and finding ebola getting closer and closer to home. You remember reading about that “Spanish Flu" thing a couple of times in high school. One time you got a cold and you thought you were going to die. You wash your hands, like, I mean you really wash your hands after you pee. Your immune system is running on Windows 95. And this weekend you’re going to PAX Australia.
You’re probably going to catch something.
Actually, after you’ve thumbed controllers all day, and got in however many hugs and uncomfortable handshakes your friendship circle allows... after you’ve inhaled that thick, heavy, sweat-filled oxygen for three days, and run your body into the ground feasting on the most high-fat, least-Instagrammable foods you can find -- you’re definitely going to catch something, no matter how much of a germophobe you are.
But what? Rumours run rampant about the enigmatic PAX POX, a scourge that afflicts the humble expo-goer whether young, old or cosplaying as a bit-part character in Final Fantasy VII. Apparently it leaves you with a nose that lets in less fresh air than Guantanamo, a head that feels like it weighs a hundred tons and the kind of general apathy towards the world that makes emo kids from the early 2000s look happy.
It’s highly likely that what we describe as the PAX POX is a rhinovirus of some kind, spread by contact with another human being’s virus-carrying throat-droplets. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get all sorts of diseases by jumping into what equates to a large steel box with thousands of other virus-production machines. Here are some of the ones to look out for!
The Common Cold AKA The Man-Cold
Cold picture from Shutterstock EXPOSURE DANGER: Extreme THREAT LEVEL: Low Probably the causative agent behind PAX POX, this little number is actually a disease caused by up to 200 different strains of virus. The most commonly implicated are the rhinoviruses, which are tiny in size but, like their name sake, can turn your skin gray and cause you to grow a central horn.
No, no, that’s not exactly true –- the rhinoviruses are minuscule, but they are not going to cause too many life-threatening issues. You certainly won’t grow a central horn, but you will be thoroughly inconvenienced. They typically infect the upper respiratory tract, from your nose to down your throat, and cause you to feel so terrible because as they infect the cells of the tract they cause them to release chemicals that inspire inflammation, resulting in the sore throat and running nose.
They say that smiling is contagious, but smiling has nothing on this. The causative agents of the common cold have been proven time and again to particularly well-versed in moving from human to human. Of note is the fact that, at least for rhinovirii, these viruses typically operate best at 32 degrees. And I don’t need to remind you of the potential temperatures that the humid, body-odour-capturing halls at PAX will likely reach. If you’re staying at PAX for all three days, there is an extremely high chance you will be exposed to the common cold -- but hey, that’s not so bad. It’ll give you a couple of sick days off work, at worst.
RECOMMENDED COURSE OF ACTION: Not worth missing a 'con over so refer to this -- regularly wash your hands, avoid kissing strangers and there is some data that supplementation with zinc may help reduce prevalence
Influenza – The Flu
Flu pic from Shutterstock EXPOSURE DANGER: High THREAT LEVEL: Moderate In 1918, a strain of the influenza virus wreaked havoc across the globe, and although several studies have estimated the toll to be around 50 million people, but it has also been suggested that as much as 5 per cent of the global population at the time died from influenza. At a guess, that would mean 100 per cent of the PAX attendees in 2014 are at risk of death, but I am no mathematician.
Influenza is not likely to be the causative agent behind PAX POX, although it does have several similarities with the common cold in terms of symptoms. However, influenza is like taking a sledgehammer to your immune system, whereas the common cold is more like a limp-wristed slap. Further, just like the common cold, influenza causes you to feel so bad because cells infected with the virus promote inflammation of the respiratory tract. Yet, influenza also has the ability to damage your tissues which results in a higher grade fever and muscle pain and weakness.
Because of the overlap in symptoms with the common cold, it is not unusual for people to confuse the two. But let me assure you, if you have “the flu”, you will truly know about it -- because it will result in you being bed-ridden and feeling physically unable to move. For that reason and the fact that flu season is essentially over, it’s slightly less likely you’ll come into contact with someone carrying the virus while at PAX this year. Fortunately enough there is a seasonal vaccine that can help prevent the spread of the flu.
RECOMMENDED COURSE OF ACTION: Grab a flu shot before PAX, and always wash your hands. Also don’t let people put things in your mouth and when you hand over your hard earned cash for whatever reason, remember – the virus is resilient enough to survive outside the body for extended periods of time.
Gastroenteritis aka Pax Poop
Gastro pic from Shutterstock EXPOSURE DANGER: High THREAT LEVEL: Low to Moderate The long days at PAX are supplemented with the occasional Bad Food Item, like the con-staple Hot Chips or ol’ faithful, The Hotdog. It’s awfully hard to get out of your Game of Thrones cosplay to sit on the Porcelain Throne, so you want to do your best to avoid getting the dreaded PAX POOP.
Not to be confused with the PAX POX, PAX POOP results in an uncomfortable amount of time spent in the bathroom with both the exits open (your body’s exits, not the bathroom’s). The virus behind this condition is most commonly a rota- or norovirus, though excessive vomiting and diarrhoea could be a sign of something much worse, like Cholera. The immune system, in its attempt to shut down and eradicate the cause of this condition, again stimulates inflammation, which prevents the intestines from retaining fluids and thus, leads to dehydration. Fortunately, those of us unlucky enough to deal with ‘gastro’ are likely to be out of the building for a good amount of time and don’t present too much of a hazard to those around us.
RECOMMENDED COURSE OF ACTION: It is imperative that you wash your hands after evacuating your insides, every time and thoroughly. Try your best not to vomit in your cosplay as well, the stink alone will kill you.
Ebola pic from Shutterstock EXPOSURE DANGER: ??? THREAT LEVEL: Extreme Ebola is a microscopic spaghetti-shaped virus that you’ve probably heard a lot about. It is the Official Cause of the 2014 Apocalypse, sometimes agent of Zombie Outbreaks and all-round bad guy of viruses. The current strain, afflicting parts of Africa and seemingly spreading across the planet, is known as the Zaire strain and it has proven to be the deadliest on record.
Ebola causes a high-grade fever, pounding headaches and muscle fatigue and is a hemorrhagic disease. That is, it has the ability to mess with the way your body carries blood to your organs. The virus works its way into the cells of your blood vessels. Here, it produces a lot of nasty proteins that aim to break down the cell and enable the virus to completely evade the immune system. The reason that Ebola patients bleed so much is because their blood vessels have the structural integrity of a pillow fort. They collapse quickly.
There is no current evidence that suggests you can catch Ebola via StreetPass, but at the same time, it’s better to be safe than sorry. I would be routinely screening anybody on your 3DS that has travelled internationally in the last week. The method of transmission is through direct contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids and like the cold and influenza, Ebola is readily transmittable.
RECOMMENDED COURSE OF ACTION: Cosplay as anything that involves a HAZMAT suit, don’t talk to anyone, don’t touch anyone, run for your life any time somebody mumbles ‘braaaaaains’
At a well-attended convention where people are often in close contact, like PAX, there’s always the chance for diseases to spread. Always remember that it’s important to be hygienic by washing your hands, not sneezing in people’s faces and trying to eat and drink healthy. We’ve only covered a small subset of potential diseases candidates here, but there are hundreds of microbes that are constantly vying to make your body home.
Have a safe, hygienic con and remember, always remember, to wash your hands. Do your best not to catch something!