Thursday, 30 April 2009


This week has all been a bit surreal. After weekend of pure excess, I arrived home on Monday afternoon to be chopped in the gob by a global pandemic. That's right kids, it's that time of year again. Unfortunately for those of us cynical enough to think this is all a massive case of Bluetongue (remember that? Is it still around? Who cares?) it turns out that this health threat is actually very real, and could possibly claim thousands of lives across the globe. There goes my pseudo-optimistic summery glow.

The problem with Swine Flu, (or Influenza Virus A subtype H1N1 if you want to get technical) is that by it's very nature it has managed to mutate into a virus that Human bodies can't properly fight off. This is what the 'flu virus does generally, and these viruses are generally very good at what they do. The Spanish Flu in 1918-1919 claimed millions of lives, and affected up to 1 billion people worldwide - that's half the world's population at the time. This new strain of Swine Flu is a descendant of the deadly Spanish Flu, and because it has already begun killing people in Mexico and the USA, there is a certain degree of panic in the air. Could this be the next big pandemic?

According to Dr Ben Goldacre, author of Bad Sceince and voice of sense extraordinaire, there is a genuine risk of this being the case. The media have, of course, gone to town with the idea that we all might DIE SUDDENLY AND SCARILY IN A WORLDWIDE EPIDEMIC OF AN INFECTION WE DON'T KNOW VERY MUCH ABOUT, but rather than do as he has been asked by many in the industry and become a sort-of pundit for the rubbishing of the disease, he's accepting that there is a real risk. In his latest blog entry, Parmageddon, he speaks of the media as being treated like "the boy who cried wolf". Sadly, he's right. We've heard of SARS, Bird Flu, Bluetongue, malaria epidemics and the resurgence of Foot and Mouth. As a people, we're desensitised and cynical when it comes to life-threatening epidemics. It's a dangerous situation to be in.

I realise that Swine Flu has no relation to the Foot and Mouth outbreak in 2004 here n the UK, but I'm using it as my way of understanding the devastation - this is the only epidemic I have ever witnessed first-hand in my lifetime. Living in rural Scotland when the outbreak started, we all took the warnings with a pinch of salt. Then the panic arrived, and farmers began slaughtering their cattle in order to somehow stem the flow of the disease. Piles of burning animal carcasses, closed off routes to the nearest villages, walking through sheep dip to get to the shops - it was scary and unpleasant, and it actually happened, despite all of the village's gossiping naysayers. I'm a little bit worried about this flu pandemic. I was already scared of the world - now I'm terrified that if I go outside I'll somehow be infected by a mutant virus and die before the end of the week.

What we all need to remember is that although this virus can (and has) kill(ed), it is still only the flu. Loads of people get better from the flu. It doesn't cause your eyes to swell and burst gooily out of your head, nor does it turn your blood to Tizer, and as far as I'm aware, you stay roughly the same proportions, with no inside-out digestive system side-effects. If you do get the infection, you'll be retching, vomming, shivering, feverish and possibly hallucinating (if you're lucky) but you won't turn into glue or end up with a cardboard skeleton. If the government continues to stockpile Tamiflu and all those other nice tasty anti-viral drugs, we should all be ok. Breathe. It might be alright. However, I'm somewhat more concerned about the virus that's bound to strut on the scene in a decade or so, turning its leather jacket's lapels up like a cocky arsehole with its Ray Bans glinting in the post-apocalyptic sunlight as it scans the area it's about to decimate; because it knows - it knows - it is now resistant to those stockpiled drugs because of the big Piggy Pox outbreak of 2009.

Happy nightmares.


Teslas_codpiece said...

1) Horizon has taught me that N5N1 is the thing actually going to murder the shit out of me. Thus I laugh at your pitifully low chemical composition. Muhahaha

2) I like it that such illnesses are important enough to warrant capital letters (not picking on you, it's accepted convention). Capital letters = importance = death. Obv.

3) Parmageddon is ever so close to sounding like Parmogeddon, which doesn't at all sound dangerous unless one has an underlying heart condition. To the mere mortal it just sounds damn tasty.

Overall, like most of the populous the whole thing leaves me terrifically cold. I'm not going to be directly affected unless I catch it, and there's precious little I can do to prevent that. In cases like this I just switch to my next favourite meat and drink more brown ale. Wake me when it's safe to eat bacon again.

And that probably underlines my ignorance, because is that how someone would catch it?

peterRepeater said...

Next week, how global warming will eat your pets!

I fully agree with you (and Dr. Ben) and I expected the counter-balancing claim that it's all just a bit of hokum.

What I hate is the collective media, the dynamic of the whole machine, has very little faith in its ability to relay facts to the public without coming from some oblique angle.

Just shut up. I don't want Richard Bacon and his production team shouting demonstratively down the public ear about something even their finely chosen 'D-list intellectuals' can't and won't have an answer.

Next we'll have Toby Anstis interviewing Nick Griffin about how to spot H1N1 in your local area and how to lobby against them moving in and spoiling our quaint parishes; and how to approach your local ombudsman about H1N1 sending its kids to the local schools and skewing the exam results rendering it a less desirable school to send our precious kiddy-winkles.

Media: grow a backbone.

Katie said...


You don't catch it through eating pork, you catch it just like you'd catch a normal flu virus - somebody with the disease sneezes or something near you and you catch it. I think....

Katie said...

Hear hear here hare heir! Media - grow a pair!

Andy said...

You say and these viruses are generally very good at what they do, but all they want to do is multiply, if they were THAT good they wouldn't kill us off, they'd put their little feet up inside our lungs and live a life of relaxation and enjoy the drugs we take every so often. Contemplating life and death and what pair of socks to wear tomorrow.

I think a big Morrisons trip is in order, get a crap load of food and live at the top of our stairs for as long as possible. Making sure we've got a working internet connection and a big TV. Obv.

If you REALLY want to panic check out this:

Not only does it tell you about swine flu but whether someone on our street has measles or mumps but every other freaking virus and disease going as well.

Anonymous said...

In response to what Andy said about viruses not wanting to kill us off, some science boffins somewhere reckon the virus has evolved so that it no longer kills the host. As the virus has figured out it dies with the host, it has obviously decided to not be as aggressive and thus is not resulting in death for most healthy people with good access to healthcare.

I'm not massively concerned about it at the moment although I'm sure GP surgeries everywhere are going to be over run with sniffling hypochondriacs, petrified of their common cold.

It will be interesting to see if the pandemic alert goes up a notch to a 6 (it is currently on 5) as the whole country will basically shut down. Football matches will be cancelled, nightclubs will close and I get to bunk off Uni. I bet that the cancellation of bloody sport fixtures causes more whining in the general public than the risk of death.

Katie said...

That's really interesting about the virus actually knowing it dies with the's like they're self-aware. That's some seriously scary shit.

People die of regular flu all the time though, this is what people forget. That's why athsmatics and old people get flu jabs in the winter. It makes itharder to breathe and then you die. Or it wrecks your immune system, and then you die. Or you get really dehydrated. Then you die. I'm pretty sure I'm not going to die of Swine Flu though really...I drink and smoke etc too much for that to be the reason I kick it. Wurd.

Richard Vivmeister Hirst said...

I too blame Richard Bacon. I mean, his name's a massive clue.

Katie said...

Gasp! I think you're onto something there!

Andy said...

I stand corrected about the virus not living inside us after we are dead. I looks like it still will do, but that's just not much fun now is it?

See below from CNN site:

14. Can the swine flu virus live on inanimate objects? If someone with swine flu touches a doorknob, then I touch it, could I get swine flu?

Flu viruses can live on inanimate surfaces. So theoretically, you could get swine flu from touching a doorknob that was just touched by an infected person. However, that's pretty unlikely, according to Dr. Arthur Reingold, head of epidemiology in the School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley.

Katie said...

Yeah, they can live on hard surfaces for up to 8 hours I think I heard somewhere...that's why people are obsessed with Dettol spray and things like that. Kills the buggery bacteria off.

robert said...

This little piggy went to market,
This little piggy stayed at home,
This little piggy had roast beef,
This little piggy had none.
And this little piggy had influenza A virus subtype hemagglutinin protein 1 neuraminidase protein 1.

1. 4.
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