The media are full of stories about the threat that the swine/Mexican/H1N1 virus poses to our health, our economy, our country and the world. In The Washington Post, Gene Robinson writes that swine flu is a bigger threat than Islamic terrorism. And, in terms of the statistics, he has a point. According to the Centers for Disease Control, there are about 36,000 flu-related deaths a year in the United States.

The current, off-season flu is supposedly worse than others. More virulent. More deadly. It mutates faster. Attacks young people, whose more robust immune systems overreact and produce too much fluid, leading to pneumonia. Or so I am told.

It seems to me that every year for the past few, we go through these scares. Bird flu. Avian flu. Swine flu. Asian flu. Mexican flu. Some sort of new variation on the old virus. Experts express concern that it could be like one of the great pandemics of the past.

The government mobilizes. It searches for antivirals. Finds that they are in short supply. Stockpiles them and then rations them. (Personally, I was never sicker than the year I let someone talk me into getting a flu shot.)

This year, the response seems unprecedented. Government is telling us to avoid enclosed spaces, avoid shaking hands, sneeze into your elbow, stay home from work. It is distributing dust masks and hand sanitizer, and posting signs instructing us to wash our hands.

I am not a doctor, and I do not play one on TV. I do not know how to assess the threat that this year’s flu poses. But I do not like being sick and I try to avoid it. I say take a sauna to stay healthy in body and mind, and to cure what ails you.

Those who know me know that I am a big proponent of staying warm generally. I prefer it to being cold any day.

I like the dry heat of the sauna. I prefer it to the moist heat of he steam bath. I use the sauna to loosen up before exercising. I believe it helps me to avoid injuries. After a workout, or just by itself, it opens the pores and allows you to sweat out the impurities.

Raising your body temperature may have other benefits, too. I suspect that the physical heat has an antiseptic effect. I suspect that it is one of the reasons that the body’s response to infection, fever, involves raised body temperature.

Beyond the speculative therapeutic health benefits, saunas have spiritual benefits. Saunas are social institutions. At a time when our world is growing larger, more stratified, dispersed and impersonal, saunas are intimate little gatherings.

In the sauna, we are stripped down to our bare humanity. Rich man. Poor man. Simpleton. Sophisticate. Black. White. Republican. Democrat. In the sauna, we all sweat side by side.

It seems to have a calming effect. A restraining influence. Maybe, it’s because we’re all vulnerable. Maybe, it’s because our imperfections are so apparent. Maybe, we’re just tired. In the sauna, discourse is civil. We talk. And the world’s problems seem a little less dire.

Of course, I was sick as a dog last week. Dog flu?

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hbfrank.JPGHalsey Frank is a Portland resident, attorney and former chairman of the Republican City Committee.