Sunday, August 16, 2009

688 : Only sensible article in TOI so far about the Swine flu

Paracetamol, rest and chicken soup by Sudeshna Sen (12th Aug, Pg 4, TOI)

It’s like being gifted a designer bag by someone you hardly know, you don’t quite know if it’s the genuine article. I still don’t know if I actually had swine flu, though my doctor insists I did. How does he know? They didn’t test me; he was diagnosing and refusing to give me medicines on the phone. We’re not allowed to show up at the surgery and spread it about. I could have had measles for all I know.

It felt like any other nasty viral fever, a week or 10 days of fever and stuff, and then you’re left feeling like you’ve been flattened by a truck for another week or so. In hindsight, it’s no big deal, really, ho hum. Given the completely unnecessary palaver everyone is making about swine flu, one is more likely to die of sheer worry than of any flu. It doesn’t, in the least bit help, that media, governments and health authorities in nation after nation are following almost identical patterns, about as predictable as the flu cycle.

It’s hit Indian shores about a month after we’ve been through the whole cycle of panic and alarmism, trying to first contain and isolate, then test and treat, then a shortage of medicines as everyone panics every time we sneeze, then a move towards trying to identify only the really risky cases and treating them, and finally by that time everyone’s already had it, and recovered. We were all given dire warnings for weeks, so when I sneezed I just hoped it would go away.

By the time I summoned up the courage to call the National Health Service, they’d stopped quarantining people in their homes. “No point, it’s too widespread already,” the doctor said. Phew. I’d been giving myself heart attacks worrying. This is London, not Mumbai, nobody delivers food home. Here’s the real dope from a survivor. Don’t panic. No, it is not fatal. Not by itself, only from additional complications and usually if you are pregnant, already have other serious illnesses like heart or kidney disease, or something major. Apparently, since this beastie is related to some bug that was around in the ’20s and 30s, older people are less susceptible, but children below 16 are.

Gas masks are useless. It’s a nasty li’l virus, it’s extremely fast and sociable, it transmits itself like the common cold. Anti-virals like Tamiflu are not preventives. Don’t just pop ‘em, even if you get hold of them. They have to be taken in exactly the first 48 hours after getting the infection, it’s useless else. Also they give you nasty side effects like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhoea. Especially in children.

The most effective treatment is paracetamol, plenty of fluids, rest, and chicken soup. That’s what I was given, despite nagging incessantly at my doctors for anti-virals. I’m not eligible for them, apparently, because in the UK, antivirals are being stingily doled out only to highrisk categories.

So I panicked, muttered darkly about being stuck in a backward country, and got someone in India to send me supplies of Oseltamivir. I called again. My rather tetchy GP told me not to whine, drink my soup and it would go away in a week or 10 days. Surprisingly, it did. By the time I was actually allowed into the surgery, and did a battery of tests in retrospect for any secondary or lingering infection, it was all over.

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