Friday, December 25, 2009

The Human Whatever Virus…

Humanity has always been ravaged by viruses of one sort or the other. Well it had to be! Even other animals, plants and bacteria are. Natural forces do have to regulate populations of all species right? I agree that viruses have nearly halved the human gene pool on several instances but that does not mean we go barmy every time a new virus is brought to the public’s notice! Why the fuss? What’s wrong with the Fourth Estate?

In recent history, we had the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, more popular as HIV that hit off the trend of media-induced phobia and continues to be a rage all over the planet. Every ‘celebrity’ who has any little thing to their credit or has had even the most minuscule space in the entertainment industry jumps on to the bandwagon to prevent the ‘AIDS epidemic’. Well, commendable intentions here but HIV is one of the best dangerous viruses known to mankind. Unlike most other viruses, it does nothing to spread! It is largely dependent on the host to be promiscuous to spread on to other victims! There have been multiple instances of iatrogenic infections but the medical and paramedical community knows how to deal with such cases.

The other crazy thing we had on our hands was the SARS because of some corona virus around 2003-04. That thing just fizzled out thanks to the concerned government authorities, especially the Chinese taking prompt measures to prevent its spread. Nevertheless, they did delay the mandatory information of the outbreak to the WHO and the international community. The next thing in line was the Avian Influenza. The hysteria surrounding it was implausible. We were studying agriculture with Animal Husbandry as an integral part of our studies. Regular poultry farm visits never stopped. Everyone was unperturbed but the media just went bonkers! How often do most people play around with or come in contact with birds? City dwellers have the most minimal contact often limited to pets or cooked chicken. Despite assurance from doctors that cooking kills the virus, chicken consumption fell drastically. The animal lovers’ tribe with PETA as their leader went around town happily telling everyone that chicken lives were being saved. The media scared everybody with reports of an imminent avian flu pandemic which never happened thanks to the systematic genocide of poultry birds that we humans inflicted.

The latest scare has been due to the Swine Flu which is caused by the H1N1 virus (Haemagglutinin 1 Neraminidase 1, try not forgetting this one!). I agree that more than 10,000 victims have been claimed by the virus in the US alone. But that does not justify the fear-mongering by the members of the press. Some friends and my mother almost suffered panic attacks that loved ones and they would fall seriously sick. Governments across the world rightfully wanted the media to tone down the reports but the media did not relent. After all, what can you expect from a pig but grunt? The WHO estimates that the Spanish Flu (also a strain of the H1N1) of 1918 killed nearly 40-50 million people worldwide, the Asian flu (H2N2 virus) of 1957 exterminated about 2 million humans and the Hong Kong flu of 1968 (H3N2 virus) claimed nearly 1 million lives. In fact, these viruses are now the cause of the seasonal common colds that we suffer! That means all of us have probably suffered from the Swine and the Avian influenza at one point or the other.

Thankfully, the swine flu frenzy is dying down. Authorities are minding their business well and doing the needful. In the meanwhile, some pharmaceutical company is trying to bring another virus into fashion i.e. in the media spotlight to sell a vaccine. Ladies and gentlemen, I am talking about the Human Papilloma Virus. Depending upon your gender, it can cause cancers of the anus and/or penis or cancers of the vulva, vagina, anus and cervix. Page long ads in the papers are trying to convince women to protect themselves against cervical cancer with this vaccine. Well commendable intentions again but there is no need! One of my acquaintances immunized herself against the HPV and asked me to do the same. I refused. To begin with, people who don’t have access to clean toilets and those who have multiple sexual partners are the ones at risk of a HPV infection. I don’t fall in any of these categories. I don’t need the vaccine. Thank you very much. She looked cross and tried to tell me that cervical cancer claims more Indian women than breast cancer annually. I replied that it was obvious. Child marriage is still rampant in the interiors and teenage mothers have the highest risk. The point is that unless you are in any of the high risk groups you don’t need the HPV vaccine. If you do, you also need to be inoculated against Hepatitis B.

The reach of the electronic and traditional media helps a great deal about informing people about new disease outbreaks. I am thankful for being told about the symptoms. Nonetheless, everyone will be better off if the death toll is kept to page 2 and 3 or even beyond that if possible. Any viral infection can cause death. Even the most common and well-known viruses continue to kill so many around the year and so do bacterial infections like Tuberculosis. But no one writes about that and people have definitely not stopped spitting! The next time a new virus pops up and the media decides to be the cock of the walk and tells us that Doomsday is coming, relax; we can’t be wiped off that easily.


VINAY said...


skV said...

nice to see u back :)

Natalia said...

Thanks a lot Vinay! I had to do my bit to kill the flu frenzy ;).

Achintya said...

good to see u blogging in English again...
I also feel that this news delivery is attached to sales, masala and hype. So if anything new comes up, media blows it up like anything. Like in the case of swine flu, the first casualities got news articles on front page, while later when swine was still at peak but had sort of become a stale piece of news, it was not even getting a mention

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An infectiously enthusiastic incorrigible optimist, insanely in love with and morbidly curious about life, death and everything in between.