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Season of influenza
The influenza or flu season—a result of the re-opening of schools three weeks ago, airplane virus travel bringing down the latest strain of the virus, and the Trini predilection for Carnival feting—is upon us.
Everywhere you turn it is snuffle, snuffle, snuffle and cough, cough, cough! People who vigorously fete all weekend with their “cold” find they cannot work on Monday morning and turn up in GP’s offices begging for “ah two days.”
Allied to time off for preparing to fete, three- to four-hour traffic jams and the natural slowness of islanders, more time is lost to productivity and the island coasts placidly along, oblivious to the stench of garbage.
Flu or not, rain or not, dust or not, come J’Ouvert morning every man-jack will be feting down the place as if it’s their last chance.
Later that day and the next, easily accessible bank loans will have all and sundry parading down Ariapita Avenue, pretending not to have a care in the world, the children home, tie-up to the bedpost or, if lucky, to tantie. Play yourself!
To make things worse, there is no cure for the flu or “cold” as I shall, following Trinidadian habit, refer to it although they are not the same.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains the difference thus: “The flu and the common cold are both respiratory illnesses but they are caused by different viruses.
“Because these two types of illnesses have similar flu-like symptoms, it can be difficult to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone.
“In general, the flu is worse than the common cold, and symptoms such as fever, body aches, extreme tiredness, and dry cough are more common and intense. Colds are usually milder than the flu. People with colds are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose. Colds generally do not result in serious health problems, such as pneumonia, bacterial infections, or hospitalisations.”
Everyone should know the dictum, “Yuh treat ah cold, it last seven days, yuh doh treat ah cold, it last seven days.”
Same for the flu. It’s only in T&T that colds or the flu last for weeks. That’s because they are being misdiagnosed. That pesky cold or flu is really a sinus problem, probably initiated by a respiratory virus indeed, but prolonged by the chronic irritation that is now part of life in the polluted air we daily breathe in the street, in cars, in offices, in schools, in the savannas—in fact, just about everywhere in Trinidad. Tobago, I’m not sure; of recent, they seem to live different over there.
There is no treatment for the flu. About one in three people put on an antibiotic will appear to get better for a while, usually three or four days; that’s either the placebo effect or the small number of people who actually have a bacterial infection of the sinuses.
Within days, most are back to square one, another antibiotic is wrongly prescribed, some improve, spontaneously or otherwise; most don’t until the irritation runs it course, the dust load is lifted, you take a four-days in Barbados, a salt water bath in Mayaro or drink the tisane that your nennin from Toco prescribes.
Whatever you do, the healthy human body—and most adults in T&T are still basically healthy, since they were brought up, before the days of fast food, on bhagi, rice, peas and blue food—improves over time. All those cough and cold mixtures that sell like water after Carnival are useless.
That’s why there are so many of them. Last Saturday I counted more than 50 in one pharmacy. If any one was good, competition would eliminate most of the others.
There is only one aspirin, one morphine, one polio immunisation. Cough and cold mixtures do not cure the common cold.
They may help to make you feel better for a short time but they contain a combination of drugs that can cause serious side effects if used for too long, especially in people over 60 or under five.
In fact, they should not be used in children younger than five years old. Too much cough and cold medicine can cause serious harm or even deaths in children.
So what can you do? To prevent: stay as far away from Carnival crowds as you can. If you have to be in the bacchanal, exercise cough etiquette—cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze and dispose of the used tissue adequately (not on the street); if you don't have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve or elbow (the Dracula sign) and wash your hands often, for 20 seconds (sing Happy Birthday).
If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub (the rum in your back pocket is perfect). Those masks the Japanese love to wear have not been shown to be effective.
As far as the flu vaccine is concerned, you need to know that it is, at best, about 62 per cent effective. That means one in every three people vaccinated does not have immunity. That’s bad for a vaccine.
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