Saturday, 13 June 2009


According to local media, outside the Americas Melbourne is the Swine Flu capital. Judging by the news coverage and the local talk, that is indeed the case: on one hand we have the continuous count of infections run by the media; on the other we have the Federal Minister of Health, Nicola Roxon, talking about targeted treatment of the disease. That is, those deemed most susceptible will be targeted and dealt with to avoid fatalities.
It doesn't take much of a brain to realize the media circus surrounding Swine Flu is just a joke. If we have more than a thousand infections, and if new infections come up all the time, and if these new infections do not have anything to do with previous infections, then it must mean there are tens of thousands of diseased people. SARS, for example, was a virus that killed 5% of those infected, and that was hard to track; how can you genuinely believe you can keep track of a disease as subtle as the common cold? The media, it seems, doesn't care; alarmist headlines sell papers, even if it comes at the price of driving the public's ignorance.
As for Roxon's targeting, should I start with her being officially declared a vampire two minutes after her own "private health insurance fee rises - over my dead body" declaration? No, I'll deal with her using the story of our own two year old son, Dylan.

Last Saturday evening Dylan started with this cough. By the evening he had a genuinely high fever, around the 40 degrees, which even for him - and he is sick on a fortnightly basis - is unusual. The fever continued to run high even in the morning, which is yet another atypical phenomenon (fevers tend to peak at night), so we took Dylan to see the doctor despite it being a Sunday.
Our doctor's appointment was postponed twice because of medical emergencies, and the clinic was full of patients way past its closing time - a sign of wintry times, I guess. Eventually, Dylan got his turn with my favorite doctor (he's not only a good doctor that does not mind questioning and goes through great lengths to explain his decisions, he's also a Liverpool supporter - which means we can discuss genuinely interesting stuff while being diagnosed). The doctor agreed with us on Dylan having flu like symptoms, but because he identified an inflammation of the tonsils he went with that and prescribed antibiotics.
The antibiotics seemed to kick in pretty quickly and Dylan's fever was reduced (at the price of runny nappies due to the antibiotics). Still, a couple of days later he still had a fever (albeit a significantly milder one); we took him to the clinic again, this time to see another doctor. She concluded Dylan seems to have a multiple infection (our son is very talented!): in addition to the bacteria messing with his tonsils, which seem to have been dealt with, he has some sort of a virus. The running order is for diseases involving a fever lasting for more than two days that are combined with flu like symptoms is to regard them as Swine Flu until proven otherwise; however, because Dylan's fever was lower (effectively gone during day time), he got off the hook.
Now, does that constitute effective Swine Flu targeting? I have no idea whether Dylan's virus was the dreaded Swine Flu or not; however, I do know that Dylan's medical history indicates he is a prime time Swine Flu target, and that if anyone should be targeted for treatment it should be him. But nothing like that really happens; it's all just talk in the air.
The rest of the story is that a day later I caught my own version of Dylan's virus. I can report mild flu like symptoms: no fever, but I'm definitely a weakling germ manufacturing apparatus. Jo seemed to have caught her own version, with her nose getting blocked. Again, we have no idea what virus it is that we have; but if anyone was seriously into dealing with Swine Flu, they should have given us a look given that our case complies with the regular Swine Flu story of mild flu like symptoms. Instead, all I got out of my doctor's visit was a sick certificate for work and a speech telling me I don't need antibiotics because what I do have seems to be a virus.

With the above observations, let me tell you the real story of Australia's handling of Swine Flu.
The reality is that if Swine Flu was to be fought the way SARS was, the local economy would be significantly hurt. People won't go to work or won't be able to go to work, and the financial damage would mount up high. This time around I actually tend to agree with this money makes the world go around decision: Given Swine Flu's mild symptoms, there will be much more suffering due to the stagnation of the economic machine than there would be as a result of Swine Flu.
The problem is, no one is saying what I have just said aloud. In typical political fashion, the handling of Swine Flu has become a game of spin; politicians seem to think it's much better to misinform that public and maintain an aroma of ambiguity (and a significant level of fear) rather than tell things the way they are. Actually, telling things the way they are could hurt Australia's international stance: As per the Mexican case, it is going to be the poor countries where people will genuinely suffer from Swine Flu; if Australia was to appear to give up on containing the disease it will have fingers pointed at her, eventually. Some public confusion is a good price to pay to avoid that, it seems.

So stop listening to the Swine Flu mambo jumbo spin festival, and start preparing for the next big thing. I hear Yak Flu is going to be the real deal.

Note: The above post was typed in its entirety with me breathing through my mouth. And it's not like I had a choice.

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