Friday, August 14, 2009

Swine Flu on my Mind

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.

Pregnant women account for six percent of U.S. swine flu deaths since the pandemic began in April, even though they make up only one percent of the U.S. population.

Pregnancy weakens a woman’s immune system, so that she’s more likely to suffer pneumonia when she catches the flu. In earlier flu pandemics, infection also raised the risk of a premature birth

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?


  1. Yes. Its very scary.. I totally agree with ur points. I'm following MiM's advice ... I'm also trying out the homeopathy tablets. Most frustrating is - what is the govt doing to protect us?? I'm not pregnant but I am a working mom too and can understand ur concerns for ur lil ones. Hope this clears off soon. take care and stay safe.

  2. Regarding your list towards the end, it's a very good one. I would only add one thing:

    You could - repeatedly - impress upon your maids and other household help the importance of handwashing and the other hygiene-related precautions that you have written in your list. Try to get them in turn to educate their families and so on.

    Don't underestimate the power of repetition.

    Good luck :).

  3. Anonymous12:26 am

    I heard that tamiflu is being stocked up in India and not readily available in pharmacies anymore. I would suggest that if possible, try and get hold of the medication for future use.

  4. agree with you - how long can one shut life down?

    have asked my cook to wash her hands every single time before she touches foodstuff directly. more hand-washing for everyone.

    other than that, just hope!

  5. Hi. Being in the same (pregnancy) boat, can appreciate what u are going thru. Though I AM sacrificing movie halls, at least for the 1st couple of weeks after the movie releases (really looking fwd to Kaminey).

    Other than that, was anyway particular about handwashing for everyone, especially when we come in fm an outing, now doubly so. In fact, now that schools are off, L goes to the park in the evening, and I ensure that she has a full bath to rid her of any germs. Fortunately, the park we go to is never really crowded, and nowadays even less so. HArdly a handful of kids.

    Avoiding crowded areas is another precaution. Agree with you on the masks as well. So not wearing them. And whenever school re-opens, WILL be sending L back. Can't keep her home forever.

    My cook's son has fever. HAve told her also to take off till he's better.

    And hoping that the Pvt Hospitals start their treatments soon.

  6. Same steps as you Ro. Just forget about the high risk's enough to make one go hide in a closet (like I wanted to a couple of days ago!). You'll be fine:)

    All the same, the reason we need to be careful for a few days is that there isn't a well-set up system for testing and diagnosis and the Tamiflu isn't readily prescribed...the main reason we're all in a panic. Just a few centres and crappy criteria for category A,B,C and all that. I'm hoping the govt sets up things better FAST so there are more pvt hospitals and kits available.

  7. you will be well ro. just be hawkish about the precautions, but you are so right, its not possible to shut the world out.

    and thanks for the wishes for s.

  8. Sounds sensible. Life has to go on
    as normally as is possible. take care, and Happy Handwashing to everyone!

  9. Yeah, I did contemplate long enough and decided I'll go about life as usual. My daughter's school is shut anyways, that's good in a way. I went out shopping and found ppl with surgical masks - not even N95! Doesn't make any sense... its like trying to say, 'April Fool!' to the flu! If it makes you feel any better...or safer...

  10. Anonymous10:24 pm

    Day before it was SwineFlu And Now it is SRK. Tomorrow something else.

  11. Yeah, it has really been scary -reading about all these reports from back home. And you are right, it's useless being paranoid because life must go on. Although, do take extra care of yourself.

  12. Anonymous9:03 am

    I think you have an excellent list at hand and I hope you will be involving your son too in this. He also needs to be aware of these little precautions to keep hygiene. Also avoid sharing computers, mouse and mouse pads at work. Sanitise your hands after walking out of meeting rooms.
    Eat and sleep well to boost your immunity. take care :)

  13. anush's school is still shut for her age group!! so no tough choices to make yet

    as u say we just need to face it anyway

  14. ah well. yes one cant stop living. Cubby's school is closed till wednesday and i intend to send him once it opens.

    we are going about work as usual, maintaining hygiene levels and hoping for the best!

    you guys stay safe too!

  15. yes ,can't shut ourselves indoor..

    my baby is also down with flu ..have gone cray thiking about swine flu possiblilty ..

  16. Take care Rohini and stay safe!!

  17. Things are abd but don't get hyper

    Only thing we can do is take precautions, but we cannot shut ourselves from the world altogether. Eat Tulsi and amla everyday, it boosts immunity

    I too am down with fever today

  18. [Shruti] Thanks for the link.

    [Mummyjaan/ CHoxbox] Am being anal about the hand-washing with the maids

    [Cluelessness] Only available through government hospitals to those suspected of swine flu. I don't want to buy something like this from the black market...

    [Preeti/ Starry Eyed] I hope the private hospitals get started soon too. Imagine getting treated at those horrible, dirty government hospitals. It's sad that most people will still not have the choice/ means to access private hospitals though :)

    [Sur] Thanks for the positive vibes, Sur :)

    [Dipali/ Munchkin/AD] Thanks. I am trying to be as careful as :)

    [Uma] I read that wearing masks is not particularly good protection (unless you follow very rigid instructions for wearing them, changing them every few hours, etc) and encourage complacency with regards to the other, much more important precautions like hand-washing, avoiding crowded places and staying away from sick people

    [Hobo] So true. The words 'swine flu' didn't even feature on the front page of the newspaper today.

    [Preetischronicle] The son has (typically) chosen this moment to be stubborn and lax about handwashing but I'm on his case :)

    [Artnavy] As of now, Ayaan's opens on Thursday. And as of now, I am sending him...

    [Abha] Thanks. Hope you guys stay clear of the damned flu too...

    [Vandana] Sorry to hear that. Hope it's not swine flu and she's better soon.

    [Pesto Sauce] Feel better soon.

  19. all you can do is take all the precautions and hope for the best...

    they had stringent precautionary measures in place in singapore. every child's temperature was taken before they were allowed to enter class...despite this it did spread..

    take care,

  20. Anonymous4:18 pm

    nice post! i 100% agree to what you said in the son was not well and took 2 weeks to recover...we went through hell...thank God it was only viral...

  21. I can understand your situation , being pregnant and having a small son and all that.

    I am not doing anything much and going about my business normally trusting my immune system. No masks.

    And i HAVE to travel by local trains and i HAVE to eat everyday outside. I have no option , being a student and having no relatives in the city.

    So trying my best to not work myself into a freny and remain normal.

  22. I can understand your situation , being pregnant and having a small son and all that.

    I am not doing anything much and going about my business normally trusting my immune system. No masks.

    And i HAVE to travel by local trains and i HAVE to eat everyday outside. I have no option , being a student and having no relatives in the city.

    So trying my best to not work myself into a freny and remain normal.

  23. Yes it's very worrying. Keep well.

  24. award for u on my blog

  25. I like your practical approach. Yes, I agree that we can't shut the world out, but we need to take extra care. I am following what you have written down as precautions, and you have worded them nicely.

    You ppl take care.

  26. The media picks up on the worst case scenario and then hypes it up. I plan to just continue life as normal. I have become a little more careful about washing hands frequently, but I've always been that way. A little OCD can be a healthy thing. ;)

  27. I went through a long bout of paranoia over the swine flu (wrote three back to back posts on it too)-but now that we know that the flu is not going away for anytime to come-it is better to take precautions and move on.
    yes-I am keeping a sanitizer handy and being careful--please take care and don't worry too much!