Respiratory illness

Your daily reminder that as it stands, Influenza is far more likely to infect and kill you than 2019-nCoV: the all-singing, all-dancing new virus coming straight out of Wuhan.

Fortunately, there’s something you can do about influenza – vaccinate yourself and your kids. If you do it in SA, you’ll pay about R50 and if you have medical insurance, you’ll pay nothing and they’ll give you a million points for doing it.

I lived with, cared for and slept next to a very sick wife with influenza for 10 days last year and remained wholly unscarthed (by the virus, at least). Guess who’d had the vaccine and who hadn’t?
We’re both going to get it this year, and so should you. And your family.

And if anyone tells you not to – they’re no friend of yours. Why on earth would you wish a serious and wholly preventable disease upon anyone, let alone a friend?

So yes, avoid these sort of people and this sort of shit:

Full story here. Sample paragraph here:

One recent post came from the mother of a 4-year-old Colorado boy who died from the flu this week. In it, she consulted group members while noting that she had declined to fill a prescription written by a doctor.
The mother also wrote that the “natural cures” she was treating all four of her children with — including peppermint oil, Vitamin C and lavender — were not working and asked the group for more advice. The advice that came in the comments included breastmilk, thyme and elderberry, none of which are medically recommended treatments for the flu.

We’re all (rightly) concerned about the influence of social media and fake news in elections around the world, but there are other (literally life and death) situations where less effort seems to be being made to halt the tide of disinformation reaching (clearly) vulnerable parents.

This needs to be addressed, and quickly.

UPDATE: We have a problem.

There won’t be blood

I donated blood today. It’s something I do every 56 days (or as soon after 56 days as I can). Today was nothing unusual: Hb 14.9, BP 122/82, total bleed took 4 minutes and 38 seconds. I’m still alive. And hopefully so will someone else be thanks to my donation.

In fact there was only one unusual bit in the whole experience. This:

“Please approach our staff if you have any questions (but expect them to rapidly back away when they find out that you were in Wuhan for Christmas)”.

Thankfully, the closest I’ve been to China was Newlands’ Tai Ping a couple of weeks ago. Delicious food, lovely evening, no ongoing respiratory symptoms. And thus I was free to donate.

Seriously though, I’m impressed that despite the fact that there has been no 2019-nCoV reported in South Africa, and even if there was, there is no evidence (and actually virtually no chance) of bloodborne transmission, the WCBS has already got this sign up to greet you as you walk into their unit.


While fully recognising the horrific implications, the suffering and the general misery that a global pandemic of 2019-nCoV (or any other microorganism) would cause, as a microbiologist, I do love a good outbreak.

The pure epidemiology of it. Chasing the source, following the virus from person to person, place to place. Wondering how fast and where exactly you build your metaphorical walls to keep everything inside (hint: it’s earlier and wider than those in charge in Wuhan did).

This outbreak is interesting for additional reasons too. The media is struggling with the technicalities of the problem, and are (of course) more anxious to sell papers and clicks than to present an accurate picture of what’s going on. But their hands may be tied on that account anyway, given that we are relying the notoriously secretive Chinese authorities to share the stats and the news. Add to that all the individuals who have read a post on the internet (Web MD if you’re lucky, but far more likely Mercola, ugh) and once had a cold, and are now sharing their expert opinion, full of misinformation, yet which is spreading faster than the actual virus.

Even real medical experts in the US are jumping on the panic bandwagon, confident that they can either play the “I told you so” card to the remaining post-pandemic shards of humanity or have their words forgotten along with the damp squib of the apocalypse that never was.

I’ve had a number of friends and family asking me about it, and they generally leave disappointed with my response, which – rather than pooh-poohing the pandemic panicmongers or damning those who are dismissing the virus as nothing to be worried about – takes a far more moderate line:

Mmm. Well, we’re going to have to wait and see.

OMG. SOOOOOOO BOORING, in this this world where instant opinions are the lifeblood of decent conversation and intercourse, but the fact is that if one takes a step back and reviews what’s happened so far, we simply don’t have enough information yet to do much other than speculate.

Because we just don’t know how many infected individuals “escaped” the cordon around Wuhan (actually, nor are we ever likely to), we don’t know where those people are, and we don’t know exactly how long they are contagious for before they start displaying signs and symptoms of disease. And all of these (and more) are required before we know how this is all going to pan out.

The next week or two will give us some pointers to each of these quandaries, and armed with these extra data, we can start to make a more informed decision about where things are going. At that point, some of those who have already voiced an opinion will be right, and some will be wrong. At this moment, we don’t know which is which. And that should surely send some sort of warning out about believing everything you read or hear.

For the moment, I wouldn’t advise travel to Wuhan, nor contact with anyone that’s been there in the last 6 weeks or so. In addition, wash your hands regularly and get the flu vaccine when it becomes available. Those last two won’t stop you contracting 2019-nCoV, but they’re just good practice.

Maybe we’ll revisit this subject when we know a bit more about what’s going on. Maybe not.

Either way, stay healthy. 🙂