Renee Carlisle of Wilkes Barre, Pa.,has it bad. So bad in fact that she can't work, sleep or eat. For the past few days she has taken leave from work, kept her kids out of school, and is not leaving her house. Sounds pretty typical in this age of swine flu, doesn't it? But Renee's not ill; she's scared. She has swine flu hysteria.

All across the country, Americans are dealing with the onsloaught of swine flu. The latest CDC reports indicate that 41 states have "widespread" swine flu activity. Tens of thousands of Americans are suffering with the illness and thus far, swine flu has claimed the lives of 86 children in 2009. It's easy to see why we are so afraid.

And these fears are changing the way Americans exercise, work, vacation and even pray.

A recent New York Times article reported that "in offices, churches, hospitals, college dorms and schools, the fear of swine flu is turning age-old rituals on their head."  Swine flu is ushering in new standards of etiquette that are often mundane, occasionally absurd, and sometimes even heartbreaking.

Many churches around the nation have emptied their holy water fonts and are forgoing the traditional "sign of peace," where parishioners shake hands during the service. Offices large and small have posted swine flu protocol that often bans employees from sharing food, coffee pots, and water fountains. School officials at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., have asked students to refrain from playing beer pong, a communal drinking game, after an outbreak of illness that officials feared might be swine flu. Holiday parties and school events have been cancelled across the nation. Americans are skipping the gym and even cancelling vacations ... all in an effort to avoid what has become a dreaded illness.

What remains to be seen is how swine flu will affect Halloween. Will worried parents keep their kids home rather than expose them to potential germs? Will neighborhoods ban trick-or-treating in an effort to prevent the spread of swine flu? Either way, it's sure to be a scary night.  

It's hard to tell what's worse ... coming down with swine flu or catching the even more prevalent swine flu hysteria.

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