Live Report and Swine Flu

We’re getting close to two years since we brought the twins home. And boy, they have certainly blossomed in these two years! Apart from being mischief makers on par with Dennis the Menace, they’ve also bloomed physically. When we got them, they were at the lowest 5th percentile in terms of height and weight. They were already over a year old, so we could only hope that any physical, mental, or developmental delays due to malnutrition or the institutional environment wouldn’t be lasting.

When we took them for their annual check-up last weekend, we found, to our delight, that they’re now close to the middle of their weight range. In height, they’re still below average, but at least they’re somewhere around the 20th percentile. They might come up to average, slowly, or maybe they just have short genes. Anyway, they are generally healthy now, and have got a certificate from the doctor to this effect. I didn’t really need a doctor to tell me this – but we have to send this document to the Family Court every year unti they turn 18, as part of their Live Report – but it was nice to have it reaffirmed from a medical perspective.

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I suppose what follows should, logically, be a separate post, but it seemed to me distantly related.
Swine flu is currently all the rage. It’s the number one topic for the newspapers and amongst all parents of school-going kids right now. The papers are doing their best to spread fear and chaos, as usual. Schools are agonising over whether or not to close, parents over whether or not to keep their kids at home, students over whether or not it’s hip to wear face masks. The government has been urging everyone who is even just thinking of coughing or sneezing to get tested for swine flu – without considering first how they are going to cope with the masses of people who come in demanding to be tested. Now that reality has hit them hard, they’re backtracking and saying, hey, hang on, don’t panic, just stay home and drink lots of fluid.

Maybe I’m stupid, callous, and cavalier, but… Don’t we need some common sense here? This is flu season. If you send everyone to be tested, you’re going to be so swamped, you’ll probably just miss the folks who might really have it, or get to them a couple of days later. Why not just tell people to go to the doctor? My understanding is, most cases of flu, even if it is swine flu, can be treated by rest, relaxation, plenty of fluid, and common sense. Only severe cases are cause for concern. The statistics show that, in most cases, the flu runs its course in a week, like any other flu. It is estimated to be fatal in less than 0.4% of cases, and then it is due to complications like pneumonia or pre-existing medical conditions. Don’t take my word for it – go do your own Google search (or any other search engine search, I suppose), and find out for yourself.

In retrospect, it’s quite possible that Amit had swine flu week before last – he is always working with people who travel, or with people who interact with people who travel. He had fever, lethargy, sore throat etc. And it did go off after a week without any medication, but with plenty of rest (and good food – not sure of the medicinal quality of that, but it does the morale a world of good). His doctor didn’t think it was swine flu, but apparently it’s really difficult to distinguish flu from swine flu without the lab test. All the same, unless you develop the severe symptoms or you have pre-existing medical conditions, specially lung problems, it doesn’t seem to be something to get into a panic about. I don’t think panic helps – even if the newspapers delight in it.

As a result of the newspapers’ scare-mongering, even Amit, normally quite a logical and practical person, is worried now. Our girls have had a stuffed head, particularly at night, for the past couple of weeks or more. They don’t really have a cold, only a very mildly runny and blocked nose. No fever, no sneezing, practically no coughing, no apparent sore throat, and they seem to be in fine spirits in every way. So should we be worried about the runny nose? Could it be swine flu? Should we keep them at home? Should we get them tested?

If you believe all you read, the answers would be yes, yes, yes, yes. But I believe getting them tested for next to zero symptoms would be irresponsible and a misuse of scarce resources. Amit thinks we should at least take them to a doctor. I think we just did – though for their annual checkup, not for swine flu, specifically. The mildly stuffy nose was present then, no better and no worse than it is now, but the doctor didn’t even so much as comment on it and prescribe a decongestant, so is it really likely that two cases of swine flu just walked through her clinic and she didn’t notice?

I think getting people to be aware of the symptoms and encouraging people to go to the doctor if they have symptoms of flu is sensible. Getting people to just stay home if they are sick is sensible. Emphasizing the importance of washing hands frequently, with soap, is mandatory (and I don’t see enough of that message being sent). But closing schools, testing every single person who coughs twice in a day, wearing face masks all the time etc is just over the top. Starting a panic response to the situation right now doesn’t seem like a really good idea. If a sensible, educated, informed, and generally level-headed person like Amit can be scared into taking two obviously healthy kids to the doctor just because of ordinary stuffed noses; if, in other words, an ordinary parent can be made too scared to call a stuffed nose just a stuffed nose, then you are already succeeding in overwhelming common sense with panic. That’s not sensible.

At least, that’s the way I see it. But then, what would I know?

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7 Responses to Live Report and Swine Flu

  1. Arun says:

    I read news saying 33% of indians would be affected if the trend goes on for some time.. that gives me the chill. Human body, the nature’s part treats it without any showoff but the science could not. This reminds who is the boss!

  2. poupee97 says:

    Arun: sounds like an unnecessarily alarmist scenario to me. A little bit of research on the Net shows that in May 09, there were 4714 cases of swine flu in the US (and 4 deaths). Seven weeks later, on July 3, there were 33,902 cases (170 deaths).

    I don’t know how reliable these websites are, but at least this is what I found online.

    http://pigflu.com/content/h1n1-swine-flu-statistics-united-states
    http://www.disabled-world.com/health/influenza/swine-flu/cases-statistics.php

    To reach one-third of our more-than-one-billion population… you do the math. I guess there might be a vaccine available by then.

  3. andaleebwajid says:

    It is rather scary. Azhaan’s school has shut down till 19th but Saboor’s school is on. I felt a little reassured after reading your post although watching TV gives me the creeps because the news channels are having a maha field day.

  4. poupee97 says:

    Andy: That’s what really infuriates me – the media loves to play it up and that’s plain irresponsible! I don’t even watch news on TV because it always drives me mad how they take an issue and work at it till it becomes a national outrage. Murders, rape, politics…

    Listen. Today’s newspaper (and I don’t trust newspapers, but only because they usually exaggerate and portray every incident in the worst possible light) says that the total number of people who have actually been diagnosed with swine flu in our entire population of more than one billion is… just over a thousand as of this morning. That’s what percentage? Let’s see… it’s about 0.0001 percent? And that last statistic is one which they carefully DON’T talk about. Compare it to, say, chicken pox, which is a lot more prevalent – and at least equally unpleasant.
    http://www.wrongdiagnosis.com/c/chickenpox/stats-country.htm

    Apparently swine flu results in fatality more commonly than chicken pox does, so I agree it is a serious illness, but… I thoroughly disagree with the panic treatment that the media is prescribing.

  5. doug H / Mrwhatzit says:

    Yep, sensationism is what sells newspapers. I never watch the news anymore. They’ve got it down to a formula: police blotter, pictures of a fire, and a puppy.
    As for the swine flu, they’re anticipating the possibility of two waves. The first will be mild. The second wave may be a mutated and more virulent form, and is expected to arrive in the Fall.
    They’re basing their theory on the fact that the genetic structure of this flu is similar to the one which killed millions of people, at least in the US, in the early part of the last century.
    The annual death rate from regular flu is approx. 35,000 in the US alone. Far greater than the number of deaths from the oinker variety. (Do pig’s say “oink” in India? That’s what they say here.)

    The problem, if there’s going to be one, will come about 6 months after the first wave, the milder form, hits. That’s what occurred in 1914 (?) or so. And if this variety follows the same pattern it will differ from normal flu in that regular flu normally kills only the very old; the very young – who’s immune systems are still in development – or those with otherwise compromised immune systems, such as those with AIDS or those who are already very ill.
    The startling thing about the swine flu of 1918(?) was that most of the fatalities occurred among the most robust. Most of the deaths occurred in healthy people between the ages of,say, 20 to 50. (I heard a report on this about a year ago on the radio, and my memory is less than sharp about the exact details; but I don’t think I’m too far off.)
    Also, it killed very quickly. The average time between onset of symptoms and death was just 24 to 36 hours. It didn’t behave like your typical influenza. By the time you knew you were ill, it was too late to treat the symptoms.
    Hopefully this strain of flu will not mimic the Great Flu Epidemic of 1919 (?).

    Anyway, the good news is that if you’ve been fortunate enough to have caught the milder version that’s currently making the rounds, you’ll be immune to the potentially more virulent wave to come.
    I think I had it myself several months ago. It was worse than a cold, but not as debilitating as a normal flu. I hope I did. In fact, some people were having ‘swine flu’ parties several months ago. Parents were taking their children to the home of a some child who had a confirmed case of swine flu and confining them there for a few hours. Those who caught the milder version won’t have to worry about the bad version which may or may not be coming in a couple months.
    So, my advice would be to go to a clinic where there are hundreds of people huddled, waiting to see if they have swine flu. The odds are that some of them will, and if you’re lucky enough, you’ll catch it.

  6. poupee97 says:

    Doug: puppy? That’s brilliant. Our newsmen haven’t cottoned on to that one yet.

    I’ve heard about the possibility of the mutated and highly virulent form of this virus; and I’ve also heard of past great flu pandemics of whenever – so I definitely believe the virologists, health professionals and WHO have a basis for panic. But I don’t think getting common people to panic now is of the slightest help. Unless, as you suggest, they can be induced to throw swine flu parties and work on getting immunity to it.

    I hadn’t actually heard of such a concept until Sup33 mentioned chicken pox parties. But my mother says that when we were small and if either my sister or I got sick, specially with measles, chicken pox, mumps and the like, she quickly helped cross-contamination to take place, so now at least we are immune to most of those things. And if what Amit got a couple of weeks ago actually was swine flu, then at least he can manage me and the kids if, as and when we fall sick.

    As for catching it myself… I wouldn’t mind, but the prospect of managing two kids while completely under the weather myself… sigh… I think I’ll wait till I just can’t avoid it.

  7. doug H / Mrwhatzit says:

    Think fashionable gas masks: million dollar idea!

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