You can’t blink an eyelid these days without running into some update about the rapid progress of swine flu in India. The news channels current scroller announces that the death toll is now 23. And paranoia mounts.
We were quite unconcerned and unaffected till Monday. But then four prestigious schools closed their doors on Monday. Ayaan’s school continued to stay open though. So Tuesday morning dawned with a big dilemma – to send or not to send? I was quite in favour of sending him school, but then each and every one of my friends were keeping their kids home – either the schools themselves were shut, or the parents had decided not to send the kids inspite of the schools being open. So I chickened out and decided not to send him after all. What clinched it for me was the fact that he is in kindergarten and school is a nice place to go to spend a few hours colouring, playing and interacting with other kids. If he was older and keeping him home would have meant playing catch-up with missed classes, the decision would have probably been harder. Anyway, we had to struggle with this choice only for two days because the authorities have ordered a blanket shut-down of schools (along with multiplexes and malls) till Monday at the very least. But when schools open for good, I guess I will eventually have to send him.
The other worry that is preying on my mind is that there seems to be evidence to suggest that pregnant women fall into the higher risk category when it comes to the swine flu. Now usually, I am very confident in the ability of my immune system to take on germs. Most fevers, coughs and tummy upsets are usually fought off with the simple expedient of ignoring said germ attack till it goes away. But my brush with a throat infection in my second trimester, which I was unable to shrug off and required two rounds of antibiotics to get rid off, has me a little worried. And the stuff out there on swine flu and pregnant women is not encouraging. A few examples (clink on them to see the full articles):
A US study published online ahead of print in a leading medical journal suggests that complications from H1N1 swine flu could hit pregnant women harder, and that pregnant women infected with the virus are hospitalized at four times the rate of infected people in the general population.
So with one pregnant woman, one child under 5 and an infant on the way, we would classify as a high risk household. But the question is what does one do about that?
Some sites, like this one recommend, amongst other things, that pregnant women stay home, keep away from people, send their husbands’ grocery shopping, advance their maternity leave and keep their kids home from school so that they don’t get the virus from them.
But to what extent can one isolate oneself and one’s family? And for how long?
From all indications, this virus is here to stay for a while and will infect people on a large scale before it goes away. According to our health minister, atleast one-third of the Indian population is likely to contract swine flu by 2011. And he may not be far off the mark either since health experts in the U.S. (including the WHO) believe that 40% of the American population is likely to be infected in the same time frame. So this is not something that can be avoided simply by closing the door of your home and staying in for a couple of weeks. Because at the end of those two weeks, the only thing that would have changed would be that the disease would be more widespread than two weeks ago…
And to what extent is it even possible to shut out the world, and with it the virus? I could start my maternity leave two months in advance and keep my son home. But Jai would still have to go to work and travel for work. He could very well carry the virus home to us. And we have two day maids, one live-in maid, a driver, a dhobi* and the garbage lady in and out of our immediate vicinity on a daily basis. They could bring the virus into our homes.
Also, I would still have to step out for routine stuff like my gynaecologist appointments and grocery shopping. Additionally, the swine flu virus is not just spread when someone coughs/ sneezes in your face. Any object or surface that they touch with their hands after coughing would have the virus transferred on to it. And the flu virus can live on a hard surface for up to 24 hours and a soft surface for around 20 minutes. Which means it’s not just contact with people but the buttons in the lift, the door knobs at the doctor's clinic, the basket handles at the grocery store, and basically anything that you touch that an infected person could have touched can be a potential source of infection, if you touch your mouth or nose after touching them.
My point in saying all this is not to join fear-mongering but on the contrary to suggest that it would be impossible to avoid this virus just by shutting oneself off from the world to the extent that is possible. The best possible response is not to hide away but to continue living a reasonably normal life, whilst taking reasonable precautions. After that, it’s just a matter of luck.
So here’s what I plan to do as of now:
- I will continue to work and go into office.
- I will send Ayaan to school, when it re-opens.
- I will continue to go to for my fitness class and for my daily swim.
- I will continue to leave the house for all other routine activities, like weekly household errands.
Essentially life as usual but…
- I will avoid crowded areas unless it’s absolutely necessary. And watching the latest blockbuster release in the cinema hall is an acceptable sacrifice, in my opinion.
- I will be extra scrupulous about personal hygiene, especially in the area of hand-washing. Moreover, I have popped a bottle of sanitiser into my bag for situations where soap and water is not easily available.
- I will avoid touching my face (especially my nose and mouth) to the extent possible. This is difficult because I am a face-toucher but I am trying to control myself.
- I will keep a safe distance from people with coughs and colds. My maid arrived for work with a mild case of sniffles the other day. I have asked her to stay home for a couple of days till it passes, even though it has the appearance of being nothing more than a common cold. The driver has mild fever and has been sent home for some R&R.
- I will watch like a hawk for early symptoms. In most of the cases of mortality due to swine flu, Tamiflu was started later rather than earlier. The evidence seems to suggest that the medicine works best when taken within 48 hours of contracting the flu.
- However, I will not wear a mask. I am not just saying this out of vanity. It’s just that based on the stuff that I have read (like this and this), including WHO guidelines on the same, masks are not very effective at preventing the spread of the virus.
How do you plan do deal with the swine flu scare?