Hey, guess what? Pigs just flu

Published: July 5, 2009 at 9:32am


It was bound to happen. The newspapers announced this week that swine flu has been reported in Malta and the first online comment was: ‘God help us all.’ Well, actually make that ‘GOD HEPL USALL!!!!!????!!!’

In no time, the usual suspects were asking GOZNIpN to WAKE UP & SMEL THE COFEEE!!!!!???? And we were off. People wanted to know why there are no sensors at the airport to suss out incomers who are running a fever, so that they may be detained, sent back or quarantined.

If our past experience with customs control is anything to go by, we can picture the scene. “Give me €50 and we’ll just say you’ve got a feverish cold.” With thousands of people pouring through the airport this summer – at least, we hope so – this must be one of the most self-destructive suggestions yet.

People run fevers for all kinds of reasons, not just swine flu. And if we don’t stop them when they’ve got ordinary flu, why stop them for swine flu?

Within hours, the comments-boards – not blogs, for heaven’s sake; bloggers are the people who write pieces and post them online for others to read and comment beneath – were sizzling with hysterical suggestions, like cancelling the Isle of MTV event, weddings and parties.

“I think that the authorities should avoid large crowd like the Isle of MTV, parties (Music ones) etc”, one woman wrote, presumably working on the premise that people who like music are more infectious than those who don’t. “Why nothing like this is taken into consideration??? Many people are coming to Malta for this event….Is it worth risking a lot of people getting contaminated just because of a good percentage of tourists?”

That’s my gal: chase the tourists away. We don’t need their dirty, stinking infected money and their foreign germs.

Then there were the reams of life-saving advice. You know – things that no one had thought of before. Wash your hands. Don’t sneeze on other people. Cover your mouth when you cough. If you’re running a fever, stay home; don’t go out and infect others.

Wash your hands, eh? Now, that’s a new one. But given just how many people don’t appear to know why they should flush after using the lavatory, I shouldn’t be surprised that the public health information office has seen the need to explain what soap and water are for.

Then the Archbishop’s Curia chimed in, issuing instructions that – until further notice – people should not take the host into their mouth directly from the priest’s hand, but should receive it into their own hand and put it into their mouth themselves.

I did a lot of humming and hawing over this one. With viruses for influenza and the common cold, hands are almost as great a transmitter of infection as mouths. Hand to hand is as bad as hand to mouth, so unless churches are going to lay on a supply of wet-wipes at the communion station, this is no solution.

If the Curia wants to be really health-conscious, it should stop all Holy Communion for the time being. Or why not go the whole hog and cancel mass? If the Curia is going to contribute to the public panic, it might as well go all the way instead of fluffing about with hands instead of mouths.

On the comments-boards, there was advice for the bishops: tell people not to shake hands when giving the ‘sign of peace’ during mass. This mystified me. I am not a churchgoer and haven’t been one for more than two decades. If people are now shaking hands in church, then things have changed a lot during that time. Standards must have slipped.

The most you got when I last went to Sunday mass was a tight-lipped nod and a blank stare from the person on your right and the other one on your left, which left you feeling reassured that all was right with the world and nobody was trying to invade your circle of personal space.

Any attempt at touching would have been met with the recoil reflex, not least by me.

I’m a great believer in not touching things in public places. I will happily eat without a second thought a piece of food that’s fallen on the floor. I will crush a cockroach with my bare foot and pick its carcass off the floor with my bare hand. I will delouse the dogs and mop up their urine, their sick or worse.

But I unless there are strangers in the lift-cabin who might think I’m insane, I will always prod a lift-button with my elbow or raise the hem of my skirt and wrap my finger in it to do so.

I’ll bet you’re rolling around laughing when reading this, but sucks to you. I last went down with the flu when I was a child and only get a cold once every few years, and it’s almost certainly not down to my fabulously resilient genes (though perhaps it is) but because I have a neurotic obsession about not touching things like door-handles in public places, public telephones, stair-rails, escalator hand-rails, straps and poles on public transport, the handle-bars of supermarket trolleys, money, and so on.

The first time I got a cold in at least three years was when I was with one of my sisters in a museum turret in Toronto, the place was full of what seemed to be hundreds of germ-ridden primary-school children, and I refused to hold onto the spiral-staircase railing, finally giving in to her hectoring that a transatlantic flight with a cold would be a breeze, but a transatlantic flight with my leg in plaster and a couple of crutches would be something else again.

There was a lengthy queue for the lavatories on the way out, largely made up of even more germ-ridden children, so I didn’t bother waiting, only to discover that my sister didn’t have her usual stash of hand-wipes. And sure enough, it was tissues and handkerchiefs for the rest of the trip, even though I sat in the taxi back from the museum with my hands splayed out like Michael Jackson.

The bottom line is this: swine flu is just flu. It is no more or less dangerous than any other kind of flu that we get every year. It is just a different strain. The experiences related by Maltese patients who were quoted in the newspapers over the last few days indicate that it is much less inconvenient than those feverish colds which I dread and would gladly risk breaking my leg to avoid.

They are confined to barracks only to avoid infecting others, and not because they are not fit enough to go out and get on with things. They’re not in bed, they’re not taking medication, and they’re bored out of their wits. That doesn’t sound to me like the near-death experience of somebody who has contracted a killer disease.

Only just over 300 people with swine flu have died worldwide, and they haven’t died of the flu itself but of complications compounded by other health problems, which means they were debilitated already when they got the virus. More people die of other kinds of flu, including the ordinary boring kinds that we get every year.

Strapping young lads in their 20s who play professional rugby, eat like horses and are strong enough to knock one down – the first few notified cases in Malta – are in no danger at all, which is why they’re on Facebook right now making a mockery of all the fussing and flapping.

The Health Department has appealed to people not to turn up at health centres and at the Accident and Emergency Department at the public hospital if they have flu-like symptoms, but to ring their GP instead. But is that going to work on Panic Island?

The amusing thing is that we’ve probably had swine flu here in Malta for months, what with all the many thousands of international comings and goings, but those who went down with it just took a couple of paracetemol to kill the sore throat and low-level fever, and kept going. Because they’d been led to believe that swine flu is a killer on the level of the bubonic plague, with victims dropping like flies, it wouldn’t have occurred to them to even call a doctor because they wouldn’t have thought that swine flu was the problem.

But now, of course, all those who wouldn’t have bothered their GP last week will be lying prostrate, possibly wearing a mask, in the health centre waiting-room, while angry relatives threaten the admissions clerk and make several scenes. Anything for a bit of excitement – what sort of life would it be, otherwise?

This article is published in The Malta Independent on Sunday today.

22 Comments Comment

  1. Chris II says:

    I cannot agree with you more. I too suspect that swine flu (better still the Influenza A H1N1 virus) has been around in Malta for some time. This suspicion is based on the fact that quite suddenly it is being diagnosed in various persons, coming from various areas of the world, within a week from its “first” appearance. It does not make epidemiological sense.

    By all this I do not mean that the authorities knew. I have well-based knowledge that this is not so. Your reasoning that in most cases it was regarded as a common cold without even going to one’s GP makes sense. What has now happened is that persons (including doctors) are aware of the situation and are now testing or recognising the symptoms.

  2. john xuereb says:

    Ma tahsbux li s-sur Mario Galea qed jaqla aktar paniku bl-istqarrijiet li qed jaghmel?

    • John Schembri says:

      Xejn affatu John Xuereb. Smajtu l-bierah u li kien qed jghid kien biex ma’ naghmlux ghageb u paniku. Kollox kien ilu lest. Barra minn hekk Mario Galea hu kwalifikat fis-suggett.

      Hafna interventi bit-telefon kienu tajbin , ghogobni wiehed li cempel fejn qal li m’ghandniex immorru l-emergenza u il-poliklinici ghat-test ghax barra li nistghu nghatu il-marda jekk ikolna iktar hemm ic-cans li niehduha minn min ikun hemm fl-gheluq jistenna.
      Ma’ naqsitx ” Allura Doktor Galea nistghu nieklu majjal?” jew ” it-tifla (ta’ 24 sena !) sejra gita sa Spanja kif se naghmel biex inhassar il-vjagg ghax sejra fil-periklu ? Nefqet elfu u erba ‘ mitt ewro , allura titlifom?” U Mario jghid: ” jien Mario , komplu kulu l-majjal u il-vijrus ilu mad-dinja kollha ix-xhur. Tiehdux it-Tamiflu bla parir tat-tabib…….” wara ftit “allura nistghu nieklu majjal?”

      [Daphne – Look, I tolerate the occasional comment in Maltese, but there are limits. Commenting in Maltese, rather than throwing in the occasional word or phrase, when this blog is read by very many non-Maltese speaking people, is the equivalent of turning to your neighbour and whispering at a dinner-party. So let’s not do it, all right? Issa daqshekk. I thought it would be a good idea to allow comments in Maltese, but it’s getting out of hand and is completely unfair to those who don’t know the language.]

      • John Schembri says:

        You’re the boss, we are your guests here. It would have been impolite from my side if I answered in an other language to John’s comment in Maltese.

        [Daphne – I’m not the boss, but the host(ess).]

        John Xuereb wrote in our mother tongue that PS Mario Galea was spreading more panic rather than putting our minds at rest on radio yesterday. I replied that he did a good job even though he was given a bit of a hard time from his listeners.

      • john xuereb says:


        [Daphne – You don’t have to be from Sliema to know English.]

  3. john says:

    Does the picture represent that trio of well known progressive parliamentarians on their way to work in their spanking new soaring office?

  4. kev says:

    It’s been said that it’s a three-way virus – a hybrid consisting of strains of human, avian and swine flu – which has led some scientists to conclude that it was cultured in a lab (one prominent investigative journalist in the alter-media even mentions the labs in the US). These allegations are based on ‘sources’ (hidden whistleblowers), on expert opinion, and on the facts that surface from time to time, such as the one concerning Baxter, the “company that released contaminated flu virus material from a plant in Austria,” and eventually admitted that “the experimental product contained live H5N1 avian flu viruses.” The tip of the iceberg is reported here, polished and refined:

    That aside, the governments in the US, the UK and Canada (forming part of modern-day Orwellian Oceania) are causing widespread panic. The voices of reason are few and sparce. Here’ CNN’s Jeff Cafferty’s early take last April which makes rational sense: http://caffertyfile.blogs.cnn.com/2009/04/30/has-swine-flu-story-been-overblown/

    An aspect that is preoccupying many American citizens is the fact that huge FEMA camps across the USA, which have been constructed over the past 4 or 5 years, but which were officially launched only earlier this year, have been designated as quarantine areas for such a ‘pandemic’.

    Meanwhile, the Orwellians at the BBC have been scaring the wits off the Brits, which I’m sure you know of, and in Canada they plan to inoculate the entire population, focusing on who should get inoculated first, as if it’s a race for survival: http://www.windsorstar.com/Health/Vaccinate+Canadians+under+natives+first+experts/1718965/story.html

    Norway, which lies outside Orwell’s Oceania but is in a class of its own*, plans to vaccinate the entire population in autumn even though only 23 cases have surfaced so far(diagnoses not deaths): http://www.norwaypost.no/content/view/22196/26/

    * Modern-day ‘Oceania’ is the UK, US, Canada, Australia, NZ and also Mexico, since it will eventually form part of the North American Union. Norway is regarded by many in the alter-media as a special ‘Bilderberg-controlled’ kingdom.

    The question is: will Malta succumb to mass inoculation? This decision will not be taken in Malta, since our government is a follower in such cases. The EU does not have exclusive competence in health matters, but can direct a pandemic with a high hand if required. So far, however, the EU has been more rational and less eager to cause panic. If the pandemic spreads, or be spotlighted in way that causes it to be seen as a pandemic through media frenzy variously fed by the governments, it would ultimately depend on the collective decisions taken by the 27 member states.

    The least we can do is to not panic. Mass panic gives governments the excuse to herd us like sheep and punish those who disobey the order to get the shot that contains another version of the virus. It’s a good thing that Malta is not as ‘efficient’ as the US in the art of sheep herding. Anyone for Lazzarett?

    • Corinne Vella says:

      “It’s been said” – by whom?

      Avian flu viruses infect birds, not humans. What’s your point, exactly?

      These are serious questions.

      • Kev says:

        Whe I say “It’s been said” it means this is common knowledge. Here’s one early report, but there are several: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2009-04/uom-afr042909.php

        “The virus formed when avian, swine, and human-like viruses combined in a pig to make a new virus. After mutating to be able to spread by respiratory droplets and infect humans, it is now spreading between humans by sneezing and coughing.”

    • Antoine Vella says:

      Kev, the development of vaccination was one of the great advances of medicine. It has saved millions of lives and protected millions of others from debilitating diseases like polio. I really don’t know how you can turn this into another conspiracy theory.

      • Kev says:

        No kidding Antoine? I think you missed my point. Vaccination saves lives, but when vaccines are ‘bad’ (especially when they have mercury in them, or have serious side-effects), or when they are unnecessarily given to whole populations, the result is that people die who otherwise would not have.

        If you think you “really don’t know”, it’s because you don’t. As I have often reminded you, you need a box cutter first, then you might possibly understand me.

    • Kev says:

      The vaccine rush is on. The Kiwis don’t want to die. The populations within Orwell’s Oceania will survive. Iss, mhux fair!


  5. John Xuereb – I heard Mario Galea on the radio yesterday.I think he didn’t induce any panic but tried to explain that life should carry on as usual and we shouldn’t be alarmist. He patiently explained (over and over in answer to phone-ins) that there is no need to wear masks, that pork is safe to eat, travel should carry on as before, screening all incoming passengers doesn’t make sense, and so on.

    I suppose the health authorities are duty bound to explain facts. You’ve got one group of people saying the government is wasting money by buying Tamiflu, masks, protective clothing etc as swine flu is just like ordinary flu . Then there is the other group who feel all gatherings should be banned, travel should be stopped, any physical contact should be avoided and so on.

    The usual folk who know it all and represent the People….they often start their comment with “in-nies….”.

  6. Leonard says:

    Unfortunately, if one tries to diagnose swine flu by the way people behave, we’d be in for thousands of false alarms. Last month I travelled to Panama and passengers were asked to fill a form declaring this and that. A nurse collected the forms as passengers stepped out of the plane. Faster than screening passengers upon landing but still over-the-top in my view and I can’t really see the use unless it’s to slap the visitor with a hefty fine if things turn out bad. I’m totally with you on “not touching things public places”; especially if there are young children around. Seriously, I do have an obsession about this. Now, should Lennon & McCartney have been more health-conscious and gone for “I want to hold your foot.”?

  7. John Schembri says:

    “Hand to hand is as bad as hand to mouth” – correction: we are being told that the primary source of flu is saliva. Entry points are the nose, mouth and eyes. Hand to hand is less risky.

    [Daphne – John, where are people’s hands much of the time?]

    Shaking hands in Malta is not part of our culture. When I worked with French workers they used to start the morning by shaking hands with everyone.

    • Mandy Mallia says:

      “John, where are people’s hands much of the time?”

      – Next time you’re stuck at traffic lights, take a look around you, and you’ll see how most male drivers while away their “waiting” time – with one finger up their nose. (Just an observation, but very true.)

      • H.P. Baxxter says:

        Unless their girlfriend is sitting beside them, that is. You naughty boy Baxxter!

        [Daphne – Careful, or the homosexual men will rush in to claim that yours is a discriminatory remark. Homosexual men eat peanuts too.]

      • Mandy Mallia says:

        @H.P. Baxxter – Maybe I should have said “lone men”.

  8. D Gill says:

    Then there is the urban myth (or then again maybe not a myth at all) about the 20 odd strains of urine that can be detected on the average bowl of peanuts in the average bar. It makes sense, you know it does.

    [Daphne – I’m dreading the day they test those peanuts for sperm, given the number of w***ers around here.]

  9. Marisa Attard says:

    I think people are becoming neurotic. My 17 year old son has been coughing for some time because of an allergy. He is taking medication for it. However he noticed that these past three days, when people hear him they look at him in such a strange way and he even heard comments like ‘he is sick’ (marid dan). This morning he coughed in church and whilst usually nothing untoward happens, this time, half the congregation turned their heads to see who coughed.

    [Daphne – It’s enough to make you want to wear a fluorescent T-shirt with the legend YES, I HAVE SWINE FLU.]

  10. Samira Jamil says:

    I’m visiting the UK at the moment and have been impressed by the general attitude to swine flu here: no hysteria, no mass panic and life goes on as normal. People have been instructed by the health authority to: CATCH IT, BIN IT, KILL IT. Use a tissue when you cough/sneeze, dispose of it immediately and kill the germs by washing your hands.

  11. Ethel says:

    Marisa – He cannot possibly explain to all and sundry that he has an allergy so under the present circumstances and to avoid the usual paranoia I would suggest that anyone who has a cold and cough should stay away from crowded places.

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