Swine flu – facing up to the stigma

Swine flu - facing up to the stigma
Recognizing that acceptance of a problem is the first step to recovery, The Local's Peter Vinthagen Simpson bravely leaves behind his quarantine and admits to being a swine flu victim.

Hello. My name is Peter and I have had the swine flu.

There, I said it. It is out there – I can’t take it back. Now you know. Please read on, but wash your hands first.

After a week holed up at home as the virus spread in a flash around the members of the family, one could not help but be struck with the farcical nature of the situation:

Neighbours gave the kids a wide berth in the yard.

Office colleagues found somewhere else to sit for the week.

I found myself talking in hushed tones last Saturday morning so as not to provoke a Mexican wave of fear among the soccer mums lining the touchline.

As family and friends began calling at regular intervals to check how we were coping and to share our experiences, it gave me cause to reflect that when half the population is down with this thing the tables will turn and the as yet unaffected will be the ones at home in isolation.

A great man once said – “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”

These words were said of an altogether more discriminating threat but are no less relevant as we face up to a somewhat extraordinary autumn flu season.

What do we know so far?

The A/H1N1 flu is virulent – the WHO underlined again recently the harrowing speed of its spread.

It has been shown that it can kill – but at a significantly lower rate than the regular seasonal influenzas that we have always accepted as a fact of life.

Still, death is death and no one wants it to happen to them. Statistical probabilities are little comfort for those affected.

After all, a middle-aged man also died after being hit by an elk last week – statistically a far higher risk, and no less of a reality for his family.

So, sure it is a illness, and like all illness preferably avoided – for a while there I felt like I had my own moderately sized elk pressing down on my aching shoulders.

But the most profound feeling I am left with after a week of flu-like symptoms and bouts of “is it, isn’t it” uncertainty is that to our acquaintances we have become their “I know someone who has had ‘it'” people. That someone that they know who has actually had what we have been reading about since the spring – the new flu.

Them, there, over there…

The health authorities have stopped the blanket testing of patients as its proportions start to become clear. This creates two problems.

The first is that the stats dry up while the flu continues to spread.

The second is that the stigma afforded by ignorance remains:

“Little Johnny isn’t feeling too good and so we have kept him home from daycare this week.”

“Oh. Does he have the swine flu?”

“Swine flu? God no, he just has a bit of a cold, a temperature and a few aches and pains.”

So my advice is to bite the germicidal bullet, gather your friends, come out of the closet and be proud – at least you know that once bitten, twice protected, statistically at least, that is.

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