I have been in remarkably good health since I arrived at South Pole. I took my altitude meds and didn’t suffer from anything I could attribute to altitude. [Today’s barometric pressure translated to altitude is under 10,000 feet, so I slept very well and I’m feeling downright perky.] I’ve had a few bumps and bruises, and some sports injuries, but that’s all.
Various illnesses tend to sweep through isolated communities. In the steady-state everyone gets immunity to every infectious disease floating around, so people tend to not get hit with new infections. Amundsen-Scott station is pretty well isolated, but we do have people flying in and out. Sometimes someone flying in will introduce something new, and that’s generally called “crud”.Crud doesn’t signify any particular virus or anything, just whatever is putting people in their bunks at the moment. The current version seems to be largely bronchial, but some are — shall we say — intestinal. Nobody has the tools or time to care what is passing around if they can make it go away or at least relieve the sufferers. One of the current strains is probably viral, but responding to antibiotics, which viral things shouldn’t do. The best bet is that there’s some other low-level bacterial infection going around which the antibiotics fight off, leaving the victim’s body free to ignore that and go to work on the viral infection. Or it’s just a placebo. Placebos work better than a lot of other medication.
I had an interesting talk with the doctor about how we’d handle something really contagious and deadly — like bacterial meningitis — on the station. In the summer, people would be flown to Christchurch as directly as possible, possibly landing in McMurdo to refuel but keeping the plane and crew isolated; McMurdo couldn’t handle an isolation ward and Christchurch can. In the winter there’s not a lot of choice; try to set up a quarantine area, try to treat the infected. Try to get the small planes in and shut down the station if you have to. All in all a bleak and very unlikely scenario.
So why have I not gotten crud? First, probably just luck. Second, near-obsessive hand washing. The station is full of sinks, soap, and disinfecting stations. I use them, probably more than 20 times a day.